Sir David Bell KCB, DL

Current Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland 

Sir David Bell became the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland in 2018. During his career of over 40 years in education, his roles have involved primary school teaching, serving as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools from 2002 and Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education from 2006- 2012. His passion for inclusivity is reflected in the core purpose of the University being life-changing, day in and day out. He strongly believes that the people who study and work here make a real difference.

Sir David was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath in HM Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday Honours in 2011.

Listen to Sir David’s story:

Read the transcript of Sir David’s interview:

A career prior to higher education

“I started in Newcastle in 1990 and spent ten, very, very happy years. Then the call south came back, so we went back south. I was, for a short time a council chief executive, and then life took another interesting turn and I was approached and applied for the job of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools. I ran OFSTED for four years and I went off to be the Permanent Secretary, the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education, where I worked for four Secretaries of State and three Prime Ministers, so that was all very interesting. And then I left because I thought, look, I’m first and foremost an educationalist, I’m not a civil servant, and I wondered what I would do next”.

The city of Sunderland

“Then I spent seven very interesting and happy years at the University of Reading as the Vice-Chancellor, and then the job at Sunderland came up. I thought- right, I’ve got to throw my all in and apply for the job at Sunderland. And I got it in 2018. We now live in Roker, which is really attractive and we like living here, so that’s worked out incredibly well, but that was from essentially no knowledge whatsoever of the city, although our first impressions, which of course have been our sustained impressions, is that this city, this place has got many, many great attributes. As an outsider coming in, it just seemed to be there were so many positives about the city and the area. And of course, in the four years that we’ve been here, we’ve been very fortunate because there’s been an enormous amount of development. I mean, development in the broadest sense in Sunderland, and I have said to this to a lot of people, it really feels like a city on the turn. You know, we’ve had some tough old times in the city. People have had difficult times over the past few decades. But it just says that, you know, there’s a bright future for Sunderland and it just feels like a really good place to be- so that’s the city”.

The appeal of the University of Sunderland

“Sunderland appealed for a whole range of reasons. The widening participation, the social justice mission, very explicit. It just felt that this was absolutely in the DNA of this university of offering opportunity to people from all kinds of backgrounds and helping them to succeed. So that just really resonated, given my own background. But that sense of mission feels to me to be very, very prominent here. And I think the nice thing about the Medical School is that it illustrates that widening access and opportunity is for people with all kinds of backgrounds and educational qualifications. And as I say, you know, we can take people into the Medical School, obviously, with some of the highest level of school or college qualifications, you know, which is great. But we also bring people in who might be coming back to education for the first time for many years. They might come in via an access programme, they might have done a foundation year, and that seems to me to be widening access and opportunity at its best. It’s not just students from one particular kind of background, all with one particular set of qualifications. We are a genuinely inclusive institution right across the piece”

On having someone believe in your ability

“Often in my career, if I look back, it’s been because of people who took a punt on me, so I think of one particular history teacher at school who was very encouraging, of me and my friends who were in her classes, to think about university. I think about an incredibly inspiring head teacher that I worked for in Essex who first of all took a punt to appoint me at a very young age. I was incredibly lucky there. Coming up to Newcastle, I was still relatively young to take on Assistant Director of Education. Again, somebody was prepared to take a punt and that sense of trying to, as best I can, always give other people opportunity and yes, take a punt because my sense is that if you expect a lot from people and you prepare sometimes to take risks on them, very rarely do they let you down- in fact, very much the opposite. They exceed your expectations. And I’ve been very lucky. A lot of people have asked me and encouraged me to do things and I want as best I can still to do that.

Let us never, ever define ourselves by what we’re not. Let’s always define ourselves by what we are. And there are so many positive things to say about the University. It seems to me that it’s really important we all go out there and talk confidently and with pride about the University of Sunderland”.

Stay connected with National Glass Centre Instagram Twitter Facebook