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Campus Life Series: Research Spotlight

Spotlight on Research 2015

Shining a light on the year in research at City University London

by City Press Office (General enquiries)

City University London produces research that is globally recognised for its relevance to contemporary intellectual challenges and its influence on the future agendas of academics, business leaders and policy makers. Maximising the impact and relevance of our work in ways that are useful to the wider economy, cultural life, public services and policy-making is at the heart of what we do.

Spotlight on Research showcases the ground-breaking work being carried out by members of our faculty. Below are some examples of the published research and academic commentary from City University London which has hit the headlines this year.

1. First 1001 days for children as important as national defenceNewborn


Research by Susan Ayers, Professor of Maternal and Child Health at City University London, formed the basis of an All Party Parliamentary Group report released in February entitled 'Conception to Age 2: First 1001 Days'.  

The report found that the cost of failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and child maltreatment has been estimated at £23 billion each year - the equivalent of more than two thirds of the annual Defence Budget.

"The evidence that pregnancy and the first two years of life are critical in a child's development and long-term health is substantial. To ensure the best start in life and good physical and mental health of future generations we need to support women during pregnancy and birth, and support families during the first two years of a child's life”.

Professor Susan Ayers


2. Explaining spontaneous social conventions

Lecturer in Mathematics, Dr Andrea Baronchelli, co-authored a study which provides a scientific explanation for the sudden and spontaneous emergence of social conventions. The study may help in understanding the effects of online connectedness in the emergence of new political, social, and economic behaviours.

“Conventions are the fundamental bricks of our social lives — from the way we greet each other, like shaking hands, or how we dress.  Spontaneous emergence is like the existence of an invisible hand. Everybody is just trying to agree with their social circle, and spontaneously there will be the emergence of a single consensus.”

Dr Andrea Baronchelli


Caring hands3. Age of death for retirees is likely to cluster in the nineties

A study by Cass Business School Professor of Statistics, Les Mayhew and co-author David Smith found that age at death will increasingly cluster in the 90s and the life expectancy of men and women will converge.  Over the coming decades, men in particular will live longer, increasing the need for the country to face the challenges of an ageing society. 

The study used a pioneering new mathematical technique known as decomposition - or the 'jam-jar model' - to produce contributions to life expectancy for each 10 year age band.

“We need better information about life expectancy at both the population and individual level to enable better decision making. Policies must be durable, especially anything to do with pensions, health and social care, or housing.”

Professor Les Mayhew


4. Footing the Bill for Acts of God

Research by Cass Business School’s Professor Paula Jarzabkowski and Dr Rebecca Bednarek looked at how natural and man-made disasters cost the reinsurance industry billions of dollars – and how changes to the way it is calculated and traded could have profound and widespread implications.

“We saw that the drivers of risk are increasing, and the range of disasters across the World during 2011 demonstrate the systematic and linked nature of that risk.  What we are showing is how a flood in Thailand can disrupt global supply-chains, impacting the operations of businesses as far away as the American chain, Walmart.”

Professor Paula Jarzabkowski


5. Comment and analysis from our academics on #GE2015

During the General Election 2015, academics from across City University London offered explanation and in-depth analysis of the major policy areas - from immigration and economics, to health and business. They also commented on the political campaigns – from the management styles of the party leaders to how they market themselves in what was billed as the first truly ‘social’ election.

On our GE2015 microsite, nearly 40 articles written by academics were published, nine of which were commissioned by The Conversation.  All of the comment, coverage and social content, is curated on our GE2015 Storify.


6. Why do people waste so much time at work?

Peter Fleming, Professor of Business and Society at Cass Business School, examined the ritual of work in his new book The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself.  Based on his research, Professor Fleming explores how the act of working is no longer about survival and self-preservation, but has morphed into a meaningless and painful routine.

“The ritual of work is used to maintain the status quo set by neoliberal capitalism. As society is transformed into a factory that never sleeps, work becomes a universal reference point for everything else, devoid of any moral or social worth.”

Professor Peter Fleming


Flash mob7. Virtual world improves communication following stroke

Research by the Division of Language and Communication Science and the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCID) has shown that a multi-user virtual world can lead to significant improvements in the communication skills of people with aphasia.

Eva Park offers the 367,000 people in the UK living with the language disorder the opportunity to practise functional and social conversations and gain confidence.

“Imagine being unable to talk to your family, or even to tell the waiter you want coffee. Eva Park is a safe, online virtual world in which people with aphasia can practice their communication skills both with each other and with speech and language therapy support workers.” 

Professor Jane Marshall


8. No Local Authority Area in England and Wales Free From FGM

Alison Macfarlane, Professor of Perinatal Health at City, published research which provided detailed estimates of FGM prevalence for each local authority area in England and Wales. The report builds on interim findings published in July 2014, which showed that an estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales were affected by FGM.

“The figures are estimates, based on numbers of women living in each area, who were born in countries where FGM is practised, and the prevalence of FGM in those countries. They suggest that women who have undergone FGM are living in virtually every part of England and Wales". 

Professor Alison Macfarlane


9. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP): A landmark event in global trade relations

After marathon talks, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was finalised in October. City’s Professor of International Economic Law, Professor David Collins said it was a landmark event in global trade relations and should bring significant economic benefits to its 12 trading partner nations including the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia as well as numerous developing and emerging states on the Pacific Rim.

“Covering 40 per cent of global GDP, the TPP is the largest trade deal since the WTO was created in 1995. It represents the most significant of the new generation of mega-regional economic integration agreements that have emerged as the counterpoint to the WTO’s faltering progress at the multilateral level”.

Professor David Collins


Face blindness10. City academic develops test to diagnose 'face blindness'

Lecturer in Psychology, Dr Richard Cook and colleagues have come up with a new questionnaire which could help diagnose a condition called face blindness.

Affecting around two in every 100 people in the UK, prosopagnosia is characterised by difficulties recognising people from their faces. In its most extreme form, people cannot even recognise their family or friends. Milder forms, while still distressing, can be tricky to diagnose, which is why tests are needed.

“There are two main forms of prosopagnosia. One is acquired and normally results from brain damage - for example from a car accident or stroke - while the other is a developmental form which was previously thought to be incredibly rare. The results from the study show that the questionnaire can play a valuable role in the identification of prosopagnosia”.

Dr Richard Cook 


11. Why the UK’s Fiscal Charter is Doomed to Fail

Research by Ronen Palan, Professor of International Politics and Richard Murphy, Professor of Practice in International Political Economy, found that the Government’s aim of balancing the books by 2020 is unlikely to be achieved if they continue with the current programme of austerity.  The paper, released ahead of the Autumn Statement announcement, analysed the use of austerity economics and its impact during the first and second Cameron governments.

“The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts for balancing the books by 2020 is premised on very significant, and in our view unrealistic, changes in the pattern of behaviour of the private sector within the UK economy and the external sectors over the next few years”.

Professor Ronen Palan


12. Research reveals success of campaign to increase proportion of women experts in news

New findings from a study by Professor of Journalism, Lis Howell show that a campaign to increase the number of female experts used in news programmes has been successful. There have been substantial improvements in three out of the five major TV and radio programmes monitored since the campaign started in 2012, however, men still outnumber women by an average of more than three to one.

“These results are astonishingly good news and show that the campaign to get more women experts used in news programmes has helped to change the industry. However, women are still not being used enough by flagship shows in this country and it is clear that more work needs to be done”.

Professor Lis Howell

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.