A former winner of our University of the Year for Social Inclusion title, Sunderland is one of higher education’s leading lights in offering university opportunities to those that might not be given them elsewhere. The university moves three places up our social inclusion index to rank sixth and draws almost three in ten students from deprived areas. Around six in ten students are the first in their immediate family to go to university and nearly seven in ten are aged over-21 when they enrol.
The university’s inclusive outlook extends to the School of Medicine, which is teamed with Keele’s to deliver the curriculum. One of five recently opened medical schools around the country, it is helping to address regional shortages of doctors and an imbalance of provision. There is a contextual offer for applicants from low-participation postcodes in the northeast and Cumbria and a medicine summer school for year 12 students that guarantees participants who meet widening participation criteria a Multiple Mini Interview (MMI), subject to meeting the GCSE, A-level and UCAT requirements.
Across all subjects, the university works with more than 40 schools in the northeast, targeting middle-achieving children who have the capability but not the motivation to consider higher education. The First Choice progression scheme offers sessions to children on access to university, balancing finances, writing a CV, study skills and subject tasters. Successful completion is worth 16 Ucas tariff points, should they then apply to an eligible course at Sunderland.
A student retention programme has been introduced to support students university-wide in succeeding on their courses. The scheme connects academic engagement with data on student outcomes and partners with the students’ union on personal academic tutoring. Such joined-up thinking should help Sunderland to make up ground on its dropout rate, which is higher than the benchmark based on students’ social and academic backgrounds.
There are two campuses in Sunderland, one in the city centre and the other, the Sir Tom Cowie campus, on the banks of the River Wear, built around a 7th-century abbey described as one of Britain’s first universities and incorporating the National Glass Centre. A campus in Canary Wharf, London, offers business, healthcare, tourism and hospitality courses at undergraduate level and first opened in 2012. Numbers swelled in 2020 when the London site introduced four new degree programmes and the university has expanded its footprint into former office space on the Docklands waterfront at Harbour Exchange. Overseas, Sunderland has a Hong Kong campus, which deliver business and tourism courses.
Sunderland rose in our previous edition’s academic ranking, owing to outstanding results in the National Student Survey (NSS) at a time when most other institutions lost considerable ground in areas such as learning opportunities and course organisation and management. Its rankings have dropped back this year in our two NSS-derived measures: teaching quality (down eight places) and student satisfaction (down 23 places). In spite of the losses Sunderland remains in the top 20 for teaching quality and the top 40 for student experience, although the declines have contributed to its fall in our overall league table.
The university has a silver rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework. The panel said students’ academic experiences were tailored to the individual, with personalised support available. It also praised the exposure of students to professional practice through engagement with industrial and community partners, and employers’ involvement in course development. Among an extensive list of business partners regionally and nationally are GlaxoSmithkline, Delphi Powertrain Systems, Tata Steel and five northeast NHS Trusts.
The university offers 15 degree apprenticeships with more than 900 on programmes that include two options within teaching – primary or secondary; four in nursing – adult, learning disabilities ; mental health, or district nursing; and social work.
When the most recent Graduate Outcomes survey took its census just over two-thirds of Sunderland graduates were in high-skilled jobs or further study 15 months after finishing their degrees, a proportion that ranks the university 112th in our graduate prospects measure.
The university performs better in our research quality indicator where it has gained two places to rank 81st this year. More than 70 per cent of the work it submitted to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework was rated as either world-leading or internationally excellent (the top standards). Some of the best results were produced by the arts and creative subjects; engineering; health sciences; social work and English.
Sunderland’s leisure facilities span the northeast’s only 50m swimming pool and dry ski slope, as well as Europe’s biggest climbing wall and a theatre that shows West End productions. And while Sunderland is fiercely proud of its identity, a short Metro or bus journey brings students to neighbouring Newcastle’s arguably brighter lights.