Fifty years in the making

As Aston University celebrates its 50th year, we take a look back at its milestone achievements, and its plans for future growth

As the end of another academic year approaches, students’ minds will naturally begin to focus on the world beyond university and to their future careers. They will enter a graduate jobs market that remains as highly competitive as ever – a recent Office for National Statistics report found that the UK has a high level of skills mismatch, with many graduates forced to accept non-professional jobs.

Aston University’s alumni, however, are going against the grain. Its students are leaving the institution more confident, prepared and equipped with real-world work skills than many of their peers from different universities. Their employability has been recognised time and again throughout the years – indeed, just recently the QS Graduate Employability Rankings named them in the top 80 globally for how attractive they are to employers. Nearly eight out of 10 of Aston’s graduates secure professional level employment within six months of graduating, leading to the University consistently being placed in the UK’s top 30 for Graduate Prospects by the Sunday Times University Guide.

This is no accident. The employability and success of Aston’s students is of huge importance to the University. 

In the modern job market, real experience and understanding of the challenges and expectations that work necessitates are as valuable as having excellent qualifications. As such, Aston places great emphasis on encouraging and supporting students to take a professional placement year, working full-time in the third year of their studies for a company in a field related to their degree. Currently, more than 75% of all students undertake such a year, the fourth highest number at any UK university. No two placements are the same, but students can expect to make strong connections in their sector, build their professional profile and develop the skills that will give them an advantage once they graduate. Aston is dedicated to giving its students the best chance to realise their potential and has set an ambitious target to ensure that all of them enrol on a work placement by 2020.

Aston’s city centre campus is in the process of a £215m redevelopment

This goal is aided by Aston’s close ties with a multitude of companies in industry and the professions, including BAE Systems, BMW, HSBC and Microsoft, which have been fostered over the course of many years. The University is uniquely positioned to help students secure placements at the biggest and best employers – a fact recognised by the Times Higher Magazine, which ranked Aston fourth best in the UK for its connections to industry. A dedicated Careers and Placements team, who won Best University Placement Service at the NUE 2014 Awards, are on hand to help people find the place of work they feel best suited to.

Not only does Aston support students finding employment, it provides extensive backing for those looking to start-up their own companies. The institution prides itself on being an incubator of enterprise – in the last year alone, it has supported over 80 start-up companies with financial aid and advice. Birmingham is rated as the top city outside of London for budding entrepreneurs choosing to launch their businesses and Aston University has been deeply engaged in creating the conditions for such success. The University runs an enterprise programme, ‘BSEEN’, committed to kick starting graduate companies with funding, workshops, mentoring and by providing work and office space. Entrepreneurial undergraduates are encouraged to take part in PIPE Club, an annual competition in which they must formulate creative products or services , learn how to patent their inventions, conduct market research and pitch for investment, with the winners awarded £5,000 to turn their business plans into reality.

Nearly 8 out of 10 of Aston’s graduates secure professional level employment within six months of graduating

In April 2016, Aston celebrated its 50th year as a university. While taking time to commemorate its heritage and achievements, the institution is very much focused on the future – in keeping with its coat of arms, which bears the motto ‘Forward’. The institution’s city centre campus is in the process of a £215m redevelopment, transforming the University into an open, green environment with modern and spacious student accommodation and excellent learning and research facilities. The revamp is entirely directed at enhancing the student experience, with Aston’s undergraduates already ranked as the 15th most satisfied in the country according to the National Student Survey. An impressive new library, designed to allow students to socialise and relax as well as study, opened on campus in 2011 and was followed by the totally refurbished Woodcock Sports Hall, complete with a Grade-II listed swimming pool and newly constructed sports hall, indoor courts and team sports facilities. 

Aston has a history of pioneering change in many different disciplines. Temodal, a drug used all over the world to treat brain cancer, was discovered at the University, the world’s first Centre for Forensic Linguistics was opened on campus a decade ago and international guidelines for epileptics watching television were developed by one of its Professors. As the University marks its 50th anniversary, an institution-wide reflection on the institution’s purpose and place in society has taken place. To help drive the University forward and take it into the next 50 years of breaking new ground, Aston has launched its first ever fundraising campaign – ‘Pioneers for Change: Transforming Lives’. The campaign will help the University transform the student experience and transform society as a whole through pioneering work in business, health and research. Aston is committed to creating opportunities for students from all backgrounds and fostering genuine social mobility. More than 90% of its students are from a state school background and 43% are from what is considered to be high levels of social deprivation. The Pioneers for Change project will allow even greater numbers of talented young people from every walk of life to benefit from a university education through scholarships and high-quality welfare services. A new Students’ Union complex will also be built in the heart of campus, giving students an environment to study, interact and form valuable friendship networks.

More than 90% of its students are from a state school background

With the UK suffering from a shortage of doctors, particularly in deprived areas, there has never been more urgent need for the provision of medical health education. Despite this, the number of applications for medical degrees outstrips availability, with just one university place for every 10 applications. As part of the Pioneers for Change campaign, the University will launch Aston Medical School in 2017. The facility will recruit 100 students annually – 80 of these will pay full medical school fees which will subsidise 20 scholarship places to enable students from the most deprived areas of Birmingham to be able to study medicine and become doctors. Medical schools have the ability to improve public health in the communities in which they are founded. Birmingham’s societal health outcomes are poorer than the UK average, with child mortality nearly double the national standard. The medical school will conduct pioneering research into prenatal care as well as serious health issues such as vascular diseases, mental health and women’s health.

Aston is a proudly inclusive, progressive institution, with a distinct mission to facilitate social mobility, bolster graduate employability and conduct world-leading research that genuinely impacts upon society. With such clearly defined goals, the University looks set to grow, inspire and innovate far beyond the next 50 years of its history. 

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