December 2023

Blog | Top 10 news stories of 2023

By Melanie Hall

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A lot can happen in a year and at University College Birmingham, it's no exception. We've seen great stories around our National Student Survey and Teaching Excellence Framework results to outcomes in the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey and Ofsted (our students' behaviour was 'outstanding'). But let's take a look at some of the best student news stories of 2023. Enjoy our countdown!

Amber Clay with lecturer and proud mentor Mat Shropshall

10. Milky Bars are on me! Heavenly doughnut helps Amber win Toque d'Or

Professional Chef FdA student Amber Clay got serious about sustainability and served up a fabulous fine dining dinner for 60 guests to lift this year's prestigious Nestlé Toque d’Or trophy - but her win also came down to a to-die-for raspberry and Milky Bar-themed doughnut. How good does that sound!

Winning a culinary trip to Brazil, Amber was shocked to win the notoriously tough annual competition, but it was thoroughly deserved. Crucially, she was mentored by her lecturers, finding her confidence in the kitchen. Leaving her family for Birmingham and with challenges including autism, however, was a big step.

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Patrick White surveys his workplace in the South Pole

9. Expanding horizons: From an apprenticeship to the South Pole

We love hearing about the fantastic adventures of our former students and it's safe to say one of our ex-chef apprentices really went the extra mile - 10,330 miles, in fact!

We caught up with Patrick White in the Autumn to find out more about his job working for the British Antarctic Survey, where supplies at the remote station were largely tinned or frozen, requiring ingenuity to provide three meals a day for up to 150 scientists, conservationists, research students and support staff. 

But his time off was something else! Going out on research boats, skiing and exploring the perimeter of the base and whizzing out on island drop-offs, the chance to see penguins, seals and whales at close quarters. Just another day working in the South Pole...

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What a night! Winning at the 2023 Whatuni awards

8. Whatuni awards: Students make voices heard and put us top in region

This story really puts a smile on our face at it shows that, in our students' eyes, we are doing a good job. Students rallied to leave their feedback on everything from the support we offer to our facilities and career prospects in the 2023 Whatuni Student Choice Awards and did they ever make their voices heard! 

We not only won the International category at the awards, the only UK awards based solely on student choice, but also silver in the University of the Year category, which we won in 2022. This makes us the highest ranking university in Birmingham and the West Midlands, according to student choice. 

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Darcy used her degree skills to launch Absolute Collagen

7. ABSOLUTE star Darcy makes Forbes 30 Under 30 with skincare brand

Following in the footsteps of former student James Whiting, co-founder of the Skinny Food Co, food innovation graduate Darcy Laceby made the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2023.

Darcy used her study expertise to launch skincare brand Absolute Collagen, which has a turnover of more than £20 million and a £45m valuation, making her a superstar entrepreneur aged just 26.

The kitchen table business is now a UK best-seller with celebrity endorsements, including broadcaster Emma Willis as the face of its latest campaign. It also became a Certified B Corporation this year, demonstrating the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.  

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Stacey and her ecstatic team at the Prestige Awards

6. Stretching the limits - sports therapy graduate Stacey wins region's best injury clinic of the year 

Sports therapy graduate Stacey Naylor pulled on our 'hamstrings' this year when she won a top award for the second year running for her business venture, Stacey’s SN-Clinic - especially after receiving huge help with her dyslexia to gain her degree.

Her business just outside Dudley town centre won Sports Injury Clinic of the Year in the Central England category of the Prestige Awards, after scooping the same award last year. And the year got better and better for Stacey as she also moved to a much bigger premises in the town in July, exactly eight years after she first set up in business following her graduation from the University. 

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Jen Ellin (right) with one of her 'Tailored' mobile mini bars 

5. Mature learner Jen follows dream to set up own tailored events business

Mature learner Jen Ellin is living proof it's never too late to follow your dreams. Jen had always been the go-to person when family and friends needed a DJ, a venue or just someone to organise a get-together. But it wasn't until she was a 33-year-old mum running her own personal assistance business that she decided to enrol on our Events Management FdA degree.

Topping up to a full Business Enterprise BA (Hons), she transformed her PA business into a fully-fledged events business, Jen's Tailored Events, and is now on a mission to provide opportunities for young people with difficulties in their life to learn new business skills, inspired by her own journey. What a woman!

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Nurse Mike Blackham wins student of the year 

4. Titan effort! Nursing graduate Mike who started degree in pandemic wins top regional education award

Starting his Nursing (Adult) BSc (Hons) in September 2020, knowing he would be completing placements on Covid wards, Mike Blackham had worked in aesthetics for 16 years, initially enrolling on the course to expand his practice into advanced treatments.

He made an impact on us before he even started. The BBC wanted to speak to upcoming students on the rise in nursing degree applications because of Covid and after interviewing Mike for his course, our Head of Nursing immediately put him forward. 

Fast-forward three years and Mike won Further Education/Higher Education Student of the Year at the 2023 Titan Awards, which showcase exceptional regional talent.

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Aviation student Charlie wins top award for saving lives

3. Cabin crew Charlie wins award for saving lives outside day job   

How brilliant is our aviation undergraduate Charlie Little, who received two prestigious awards for saving scores of lives outside his day job as part-time cabin crew for Ryanair.

Performing CPR he learned as an Army cadet, Charlie's life-saving actions include working for nearly an hour to resuscitate a woman who suffered a heart attack in his local pub car park and being first responder at a serious motorway collision.  

His actions going back three years (he's still only 21!) earned him an award from the Humane Society and the rarely-handed-out Coin of Excellence from the Army. Incredibly proud of you, Charlie!

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Lucy at the Rectory with the Prince and Princess of Wales

2. Not every day you get to play darts with the Prince and Princess of Wales

Prosthetics for Film and Television postgraduate Lucy Froggatt hit the royal bullseye in April. Invited to the Rectory bar in the Jewellery Quarter to showcase the growth of creative industry in Birmingham, she found herself discussing casualty simulation with Prince William and having a game of darts with the Princess.

Lucy was part of the wigs, hair and make-up team for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. 

But it was the 20-year-old’s experience of creating casualty simulation wounds and injuries to help medical degree students gain greater understanding of what they might encounter in A&E that grabbed the future monarch’s attention.

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1. Love Actually! Couple who met on culinary arts degree make Britain's top local restaurants guide

With the iconic Christmas movie, Love Actually, making its annual outing, we couldn't resist a love story of our own.

Taking top spot is the story of partners Ben Robinson Young and Kaisia Piatkowska, owners of Tropea Italian restaurant in Harborne, who met while studying our Culinary Arts Management degree and lived at The Maltings halls of residence.

Thirteen years on and they not only made Britain's 100 Best Local Restaurants in the Good Food Guide 2023 - from 37,000 nominations - but won best local restaurant in the Central and East of England regional category and were recommended in the Michelin Guide. Food clearly is the language of love! 

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We hope you enjoyed our countdown of the best student news stories of 2023. Don't forget to get in touch if you are a current student or alumni and have a story of your own. Here's to 2024!

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