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New dean says Bradford students can change the world

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Prof Amir Sharif

'Students can be the changemakers', says new dean

Professor Amir Sharif was recently appointed the new Dean of the Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences at the University of Bradford. Here he speaks about his vision for the future and why he thinks Bradford students can change the world…

“I’m interested in understanding human behaviour,” says Professor Amir Sharif, the newly appointed Dean of the Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences. “It’s about people and not just understanding them but empowering them. It’s how we will recover from the pandemic and bring about meaningful change in the future.

“The Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences is the only non-applied science faculty on campus, so we have a unique role to play in terms of being a connector with other faculties and perhaps helping them realise some of their ambitions. At the same time, we need to make ourselves more prominent in the region, while ensuring we work with students and stakeholders to deliver on the values and priorities of the University.

“Now is the time to get out there and deliver on community engagement. That means things like supporting Bradford2025 and helping with the economic recovery of Bradford through programmes like Help to Grow.”

Prof Sharif grew up in London and as a youngster recalls having a passion for Airfix models. Indeed, he went on to study aeronautical engineering at City, University of London and had ambitions to become a plane designer. It was while studying for his PhD that his career’s flight path deviated. “I loved everything about planes, it was the perfect combination of science, tech and design and it excited me. However, when I did my PhD, I began to look more closely at how engineers use computers, so it was examining how we think, how humans use ‘tech’ and knowledge, and that led onto artificial intelligence and how we can use that to examine people. So, I had this very healthy mix of science and people.”

For several years, he worked in the financial services and professional services sector for the likes of JPMorgan, UBS Investment Bank and KPMG, gaining deep experience across technology, manufacturing and the public sector. During this time, he was asked to lecture at City College London and became a visiting fellow at other institutions; when an opportunity arose to become MBA director at Brunel University, he seized it.

People power

Although he first came to Bradford 14 years ago as a research student (and has had an association with the city ever since), he began teaching here full time two years ago.

“Bradford has such a unique character,” he says. “Its diversity is one of its greatest strengths and it’s something we can harness in the post-pandemic era, in terms of enabling businesses to recover, succeed and grow. The thing that will make that happen is people and that’s something we can help with.”

He’s speaking from a position of strength. The University’s School of Management is world renowned, having achieved coveted triple crown accreditation from the Association of MBAs, EQUIS (European Foundation for Management Development accreditation) and AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), while its online MBA was ranked best value for money in the world by the FT and is currently shortlisted for Business School of the Year by the Times Higher Education supplement.

Meanwhile, its Schools of Law and Social Sciences are, respectively, making waves of their own. The School of Law has a mock courtroom, runs mock-trial competitions and allows its students to take part in the Justice Bradford law clinic, advising people on real cases.

Making up the trinity, the School of Social Sciences undertakes leading research into dementia, autism and psychology - many of its programmes being accredited by the British Psychological Society. Prof Sharif is adamant all three have a role to play, not just in terms of enhancing the University but in moulding the policy makers of tomorrow.

Net zero

When we meet to chat, he has just finished speaking about the role of circular economies in cities at a meeting of research think-tank the Council of Europe - part of which involves enabling strategies for achieving a net-zero carbon future. Again, he is keen to stress the importance - and relevance - of individuals.

“Conversations about circular economies tend to be about bashing big business but what we were discussing was more about cities and communities and what individuals can do.

“This is where I think we have a role to play here at Bradford, because we already do a lot of work around sustainability and things like health policy and this is precisely the area where there’s a gap in terms of how communities and individuals can contribute to what is a planetary problem.

“I’m interested in human behaviour, because it’s not only key to running any successful business, but also something we can harness to help create a better future in general. Bradford has such a diverse culture and range of perspectives - so the question becomes: how can we use that to drive business growth and bring about changes that ultimately benefit everyone?”

He adds: “Part of this transformation will be about enabling colleagues to develop and grow. In terms of how this applies to students, we want them to be conscious that the skills they learn here are transferable - that they can be used in different ways across many areas of society, and throughout their lives, and that they can be the changemakers.”

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