The University of Bath celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a series of celebrations and events. Georgette McCready takes a snapshot of some of its achievements…

The hilltop university may, at casual glance, be like a giant ants’ nest, its thousands of industrial worker ants diligently going about their business, scurrying up and down the hill between the city below and the Claverton campus. Looking at it from the traditional ‘town and gown’ viewpoint merely scratches the surface of what all these bright young things are doing in Bath.

But, like a scientist studying an ant hill, closer scrutiny reveals all sorts of fascinating facets and complicated nuances. So, as the University of Bath celebrates 50 years since it welcomed its first students we take a look at the impact this centre of excellence has had – and continues to make – on the global stage.

KEY STATISTICS

In 1966 the University of Bath welcomed its initial intake of 1,260 undergraduates. Last academic year there were over 16,000 students, with around a third of those coming from overseas, representing more than 100 countries. The ratio of male to female students is 54 per cent to 46 per cent.

The university directly employs 3,141 people and directly or indirectly supports more than 5,500 jobs in Bath. Current annual local spending by students in the Bath area is estimated at around £147.5m.

The university scores highly for student satisfaction, with 93 per cent of undergraduates completing their degree and making the top three in the Sunday Times and Times Good University Guide 2015 for graduate career prospects. In The Times Higher Education ratings Bath was number one for student satisfaction.

In addition to being high achievers academically, Bath’s students want to make a difference. Around 100,000 of past students are alumni, scattered across the world, but attending events, continuing to network and to support future generations with gifts amounting to £7.8m in the 12 months of 2014/15.

WHAT’S ON CAMPUS

The university campus has grown, both in physical size and in international status, over the past 50 years. Among the high profile additions have been the upgrading of the Sports Training Village’s Olympic standard swimming pool and the creation of the multi-million pound arts centre The Edge, which is used by the university and by the community at large for art, dance, music and theatre.

In the process of being set up is the Milner Centre for Evolution, a world-leading centre which will apply itself to investigating the origins of life on Earth, how it has evolved and what can be learnt from this for future generations of people, animals and biology. It will also be applying evolutionary science techniques to help improve medical diagnosis and track epidemicsThis centre will be set up in the exisiting Department of Biology and Biochemistry, following a record £5m donation from former student Dr Jonathan Milner.

uni-of-bath-danceThe Edge is the new arts centre.

Last year the Centre for War and Technology was launched, taking a strong moral and philosophical approach to the research and analysis of the impact of technology on politics, war and society. Key strands under scrutiny include how society tackles international security and issues in world politics.

The university has long had a strong engineering reputation, leading to all kinds of research and development. Researchers and designers have been at the forefront of a revolution in building safe, ecologically friendly and inexpensive homes – made from straw. The university, in partnership with architects, patented a new factory built straw panel and seven houses in Bristol were built as a result. Using a by-product of farming, the straw panels could be used to build up to half a million new homes a year.

Teams of researchers and academics in the university’s Centre for Death and Society are carrying out fascinating studies of how different cultures treat dying and death. As we watch the rise in interest of death cafés, in which people are encouraged to talk about what has traditionally been a taboo subject in British society, the Bath centre will attract more attention.

For many families the search for treatments and cures for cancer is paramount. Bath is part of a cluster of universities sharing resources. Cancer Research at Bath works to bring academics, clinicians and students together in this field and to raise awareness across the region of the work being done to develop a cure.

There are many good projects taking place behind doors at the university that aren’t obvious to the outsider. One of these is the Tobacco Control Research Group. This acts as a watchdog on the international tobacco market, monitoring manufacturers and their allies to ensure they don’t stall or try to block health campaigns against smoking, such as plain packaging on cigarette packets. Visit its website: tobaccotactics.org to find out more about the Bath-based group’s work.

Another department tackling a universal issue is the Centre for Pain Research. The team here in Bath look at topics such as whether people perceive pain differently. Their research into the study of how we feel pain leads to the development of treatment to alleviate pain.

There are many more fields of study at the university, already in place and planned – such as the centre for the study of autism, shortly to be launched on the Claverton campus. But, as we know from our news channels, the University of Bath is not only a centre for international academic and research excellence.

Images of research

Every year at the University of Bath there’s an exhibition and competition called Images of Research, which celebrates the breadth and strength of the research projects taking place at the university.

This summer’s exhibition at The Edge attracted a record 50 entries from across 14 academic departments. The winner features research in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, which is striving to improve the connection between lab-grown tissues and existing organs in the human body during transplant operations.

The image captures lab-engineered human capillaries (in green) derived from stem cells, connecting with red aorta cells in a novel gel solution developed by the researchers, Tiago Fortunato, Dr Paul De Bank and Dr Giordano Pula.

They hope that the new technique will help the establishment of a swift connection between the host blood vessels and implanted organs, and lead to more successful tissue engineering applications. The exhibition also clearly demonstrates the links between science and art.

Tiago-Fortunato

The winning image: A fascinating close-up view of green lab-engineered human capillaries connecting with red aorta cells.

SPORTING EXCELLENCE

You don’t have to be a world class sportsman or woman to be inspired and uplifted by the atmosphere in the Sports Training Village. Outside, teams are playing football, while inside the main building banners celebrate and encourage. Beside the entrance is the Hall of Fame, with large photographs of its inductees, including the Bath Bullet, gold medallist Jason Gardener and winter Olympic gold medal winner Amy Williams.

Beneath the walkway lies the large gym, busy with people working out at all times of the day. I met Stephen Baddeley, director of sport at the university, to talk about the university’s sporting elite, as well as its contribution to community sport and exercise at all levels.

“We are very proud to give our students an enhanced experience with the sporting facilities here,” he said, “but you’ve only got to look at the stream of people coming on to the campus in the early evenings to see that people from Bath are making the most of them too.”

These users range from seven to 14-year-olds, part of the Tribe coaching in a variety of sports, from football and hockey to judo and fencing, to people in their 70s and 80s ploughing lengths of the Olympic swimming pool, or attending pay-as-you-go exercise classes.

But at this moment in the £30m sporting village all eyes are on the Olympic hopefuls, those who train at there and have their sights set on competing in the Rio Olympics in August.

Stephen says: “Each sport is selected at different times. We were lucky that the selection for Team GB’s swimming squad took place here in Bath, so we had a lot of press and media attention. We were pleased to see four of the 22 strong squad selected from here.”

uni-of-bath-1969University of Bath graduates of 1969.

Some sports, such as badminton, are fairly straightforward when it comes to Olympic selection, as players compete on a ranking system. Other disciplines, particularly the track and field, will wait nearer the day for selections to take place, carefully timed to catch these high performance athletes at their peak.

The first gold medal winners of the 2012 London Olympic Games were famously Bath based women rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover. And, although they no longer train in Bath, many here still see them as belonging. The duo remain leaders in rowing and hopes are being pinned on them bringing home another clutch of medals from Brazil.

Recruitment for future champion rowers actually begins in freshers’ week. As so many children don’t get the chance to row at school, university gives scouts the chance to spot likely candidates and to encourage them to pursue the sport to its upper echelons.

It is the mixture of the have-a-go and the elite that is so remarkable at the Sports Training Village. Bathonians are invited to attend the annual Team Bath Community Day on Saturday 25 June. This open day attracts hundreds of people and gives them the chance to try out a variety of sports.

There’s also a day of football tournaments on Saturday 9 July in celebration of what would have been legendary footballer Ivor Powell’s 100th birthday. He started coaching Bath City in the 1960s after his playing career ended, then took on coaching for Team Bath, helping the team reach the first round of the FA Cup in 2002. Alumni and friends are invited to book places.

Visit: bath.ac.uk. Also, visit: 50years.bath.ac.uk to find out about 50th birthday events, leading up to the actual anniversary in October.