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Graduating student wins Soup event 

It was a double celebration for one budding entrepreneur this year as they picked up their degree on the same day that their business graduated with honours as well.

Josh Playle was awarded a package of grant funding and business support to develop his new digital startup, Conclient Ltd, after winning the fifth Soup event organised by GAIN (the Growth Acceleration Investment Network) at the University. He then had to rush from the event, being held in the Graduation Marquee, to the robing room so that he could get ready for his ceremony in mechanical engineering, just minutes later.

“It didn’t sink in that I’d won until after my graduation, as I was so preoccupied with not wanting to miss the ceremony, but I’m really happy,” said Josh. “The money we’ve won will be a great help for us and go entirely to paying for advertising and marketing costs to promote the new website. Our overheads are at an absolute minimum so this will really help. The access to business support and networks will really help us get going as well and be an ongoing morale booster for the team, so I’m very grateful.”

Josh was chosen from four pitches, all from new or growing digital businesses, with his vision for a site that brings together engineering consultants and clients. He won a grant of £750, as well as a package of business support from GAIN, Devon Chamber of Commerce, City College Plymouth, and the Formation Zone and the Futures Entrepreneurship Centre at the University.

Soup events were pioneered in America, and see four entrepreneurs spend four minutes trying to impress an audience with their enthusiasm in a bid to win funding to help them take their ideas to the next level. The audience listens to the pitches over a bowl of soup, and at the end, each votes for their favourite by laying the empty bowl next to one of the contestants.

GAIN has brought the practice to the South West, and has enjoyed significant backing from the business community over the first five events held.

Richard Adams, Corporate Projects Manager for the University, said: “Soup has proved to be an enormously popular business crowdfunding event for the South West so far, mimicking the success the events have enjoyed worldwide, and it’s fantastic to see so many entrepreneurs in the region being able to access the tangible business support they need, as well as enjoying the positive experience of directly pitching their ideas to local business experts.”

Image: Rich Adams, Corporate Projects Manager, GAIN, Plymouth University; Pauline Hands, Director of Marketing, Corporate Relations & Enterprise at City College Plymouth and co-sponsor of Soup event; Josh Playle, founder of Conclient Ltd and Soup winner; Martin Atkins, partner at Francis Clark LLP and co-sponsor of Soup event.

Challenger Fellowship for marine scientist

Dr Nick Higgs, Deputy Director of the Marine Institute, has been recognised for his research work with the award of a prestigious Challenger Fellowship. 

Bestowed by the Challenger Society for Marine Science, the fellowship is handed out to just three early career scientists on a biennial basis. Nick received the award in Liverpool at the society’s conference. He said: 

“As an early career scientist, it is a real honour to know that your peers and seniors value your work. I have been bringing together other researchers in my field to establish an annual meeting for deep-sea biologists within the society, the first time that the UK researchers in this area had met together as a group. So I think the award was as much in recognition of this service to the marine science community as it was my own scientific achievement and promise.”

In the same month, Nick was also recognised by the International Deep-Sea Biology Society for a paper written with Professor Martin Attrill. The society named the paper – Biases in biodiversity: wide-ranging species are discovered first in the deep sea – as their landmark paper for 2015. In the work, Nick and Martin conducted a novel meta-analysis on all deep-sea species records found in the Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Their conclusion was that species richness is probably being underestimated in the deep oceans because the discovery of new species is biased towards those that are easily found.

Prestigious appointment for funding expert

One of the University’s most respected public sector researchers and commentators has been appointed a Non-Executive Director of NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence).

Professor Sheena Asthana will bring more than 20 years’ experience in health policy and health services research to the role, which supports the organisation’s work by providing national guidance and advice to improve health and social care.

Sheena, who has been an applicant on more than £5 million of funded research projects, has specialised in four broad areas: NHS resource allocation, healthcare equity, health inequalities and evidence-based public health, and health services evaluation. She has also been involved in research examining education and equity in the UK, local government resource allocation and national funding formulae, such as those used for healthcare provision and policing.

“NICE has a broad remit across health policy and guidance, and I am delighted to have been appointed as a Non-Executive Director,” Sheena said. “From medical technology and digital products, to guidance on treatments and how to manage conditions, its work and the potential effects of that are huge. But this is also a time of great change for the NHS as a whole, and it is a real honour to be given the opportunity to use my expertise to guide all those who are being impacted by that.”

NICE was originally set up in 1999, becoming a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) in 2013, and its role is to improve outcomes for people using the NHS and other public health and social care services.

It does this by producing evidence-based guidance and advice for practitioners, developing quality standards and performance metrics and providing a range of information services for commissioners, practitioners and managers across the spectrum.

Golden success at the Green Gowns

It was success at the double for the University in November as it secured two national prizes in recognition of the quality of its sustainability reporting and the achievements that represents.

For a fifth time in the past six years, it won a Green Gown, the education sector’s blue riband event, for its Sustainability Report, a biennial exercise in which the University reveals how it is performing across a number of sustainability measures, and shares this externally with stakeholders. 

Following on from this, the University triumphed in the Sustainability Reporting (Public Sector) category of the Building Public Trust in Corporate Reporting Awards (BPTA), presented by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Audit Office.

Dr Samantha Price, Sustainability Manager, picked up both awards and said that they were in recognition of the honesty and openness that the University reported its progress through the report.

“It is great that the University has won these accolades and they reinforce what makes this report important,” she said. “This is no attempt to ‘greenwash’ how we’re performing, which was a comment from the judges about some of the reporting that exists in the industry. Instead, it presents a clear assessment of our progress against recognised sustainability metrics and demonstrates our genuine commitment to be a leader.”

The Green Gown, awarded by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, was a fifth for Plymouth in just six years, following successes in 2011, for the University’s continuous improvement approach, and three in 2014 for enterprise, courses and food and drink.

Its success at the BPTAs, on the other hand, was the first time that any academic institution had won the award, with Plymouth ranking alongside fellow winners on the night including Unilever and Marks and Spencer Group. In addition to reflecting the success of the Sustainability Report, it also echoed the University’s commitment to sustainable development and how that is factored into core business strategies, as well as evidence the organisation understands the material issues and impacts of embedding sustainable practices.

The 2016 Sustainability Report is the fourth to be released by the University, but the first to be based upon the Global Reporting Initiative, an internationally recognised framework for sustainability disclosure. 

Image: Samantha Price (middle) receives the BPTA from Mary Nightingale and Jon Andrews, PwC UK Executive Board Member with responsibility for Technology and Investments of the National Audit Office.

Teaching excellence recognised by the higher education academy

The University’s remarkable record of success in the Higher Education Academy’s National Teaching Excellence Awards has been continued in 2016/17 with another two new fellowships awarded.

Professor Hilary Neve and Dr Jennie Winter became the 22nd and 23rd National Teaching Fellows (NTFs) in the University’s history – and the eighth in just five years – in recognition of their innovation in teaching and learning.

Hilary, Professor of Medical Education in the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PU PSMD), has championed the development of small group learning activities in the faculty, particularly as a setting for students to reflect upon and make sense of their clinical experiences. She has also led major redesigns of the professionalism and Problem Based Learning (PBL) programmes and undertaken pioneering audio-diary research exploring threshold concepts within medical education.

Jennie, Associate Professor in Academic Development, has worked to raise awareness and change practice in a range of inclusivity issues in higher education including unconscious bias, internationalisation, widening participation, mature students and the progression between college based and higher education.

Hilary and Jennie will be presented with their awards at the National Teaching Fellowship dinner in January 2017, at which a third academic, Dr Cathy Coelho, Senior Lecturer and year 4 Lead in PU PSMD, will find out if her team has won the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence. Cathy has led a team of fellow educators and academics, and dental hygiene and therapy students, on a project which is an exemplar of the unique relationship between the Dental School and the local community, and how that relationship results in innovations in dental teaching.

The partnership saw the development of a unique communication aid for stroke survivors with aphasia, for use in dental settings. The team comprised five dental therapy and hygiene students, four academic staff, a Stroke Association speech and language therapist and eight stroke survivors with aphasia, who met at the support group Chatterbox.

Professor Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning at Plymouth University, said: “My congratulations go to my colleagues who have won and been shortlisted for these important and influential higher education awards. Their success reflects the emphasis we place as a University on the highest standards of teaching, and to the investment and commitment we make to ensuring that our teaching colleagues can develop and thrive.”

Image: Professor Hilary Neve, Dr Jennie Winter and Dr Cathy Coelho.

Bloom

Visitors to the world-famous Christmas at Kew celebrations this year were treated to a mile-long trail of visual art – with the work of one Plymouth academic ‘blossoming’ among it. Professor Chris Bennewith, the new Head of the School of Art, Design and Architecture, played a lead role in Bloom, an installation of 1,000 swaying ‘flowers’ with each head delicately flickering and changing colour. It comes through his involvement with international art and design collective Squidsoup.