Investing in research
The lifeblood of the University
While the education landscape continues to shift, our role remains fundamentally the same: universities are discoverers, generators and disseminators of knowledge. The fascination of research drives academics to new insights and understandings. And the benefits are passed far beyond our new generations of students. In the words of the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF), research may "benefit the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment and the quality of life". Clearly then, research is the lifeblood of the University and City's Strategic Plan recognises research as central to improving its academic reputation and being a defining feature of its culture. City appointed Professor John Fothergill as Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) in August. Here he summarises our ambitious plan for research and our achievements in 2012.
City, like virtually all UK universities, is preparing to make an excellent submission to the REF at the end of November 2013. The REF is the new system for assessing research quality; it replaces the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).
The results will be published at the end of 2014, determining core research funding from 2015/16. Research outputs (mainly publications), the impact of research and the quality of the research environment will be assessed for each of 13 research areas across City and assigned a "star" rating. We expect to submit the work of more than 300 staff and have been carefully ensuring that each has sufficient publications deemed to be rated at the prestigious 4* ("world leading") or 3* ("internationally excellent") levels. We will also submit approximately 50 "impact case studies" describing how City's research has made an impact beyond academia.
Attracting the world's best minds
As part of our ambition to transform research within City, we have embarked on a sector-leading recruitment drive for research-excellent academics. At the end of 2012 about 100 such academics had been appointed and we expect this figure to rise to about 170 as we approach the REF. In the last RAE, we submitted about half our academic staff, with about half of the submitted research activity assessed as 4* or 3*.
In the REF, we again expect to submit about half our staff, but with the expectation that most of the publications included in the submission will be assessed at this level. To monitor this process, our Schools have established REF strategy panels whose decisions are calibrated by expert external reviewers. Academics' publications have been assessed by an "annual research quality monitoring" (ARQM) exercise. The most recent ARQM showed that 31% of academic staff had at least four 4* or 3* publications published between 2008 and 2011, an improvement over the 21% reported the previous year. We expect the position will improve further when publications from 2012 are taken into account in the next ARQM. Through the investment in excellent academic staff and research students and the development of our estate and facilities, City will significantly enhance its research reputation.
Greater recognition for research staff and students
Research students contribute greatly to the research environment: their talent, inquisitiveness and vitality energises the research environment. In recognition of their needs, we have founded the City Graduate School under the leadership of Professor Ken Grattan. Research staff now benefit from new terms and conditions which introduce parity with academic staff in key areas. With these initiatives it is pleasing to note that we have received an HR Excellence in Research Award from the European Commission recognising the University's alignment with the principles of the EC's European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct of their Recruitment.
Making research income a priority
As part of the Research and Enterprise work stream to implement the Strategic Plan, projects initiated in 2012 included "Increasing Research and Enterprise Income" and "A Roadmap for Enterprise". We will prioritise research income in 2013 by building on our track record of successful grant applications. For example, in 2011/12, success rates for grant applications from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) were 53%, one of the highest in the sector. The overall income from research grants and contracts during this period was £7.6M, which was in accord with the Strategic Plan.
Making an impact locally, nationally and internationally
We can take great pride in our rich and diverse research output. Below are just some of the pioneering projects that have raised City's profile in many important spheres of influence.
A report by Professor Joseph Lampel and Professor Ajay Bhalla of Cass Business School, which found that employee-owned businesses are more resilient than conventionally structured companies, has been incorporated into official Government policy. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills commissioned the report, which showed that domestic mergers and acquisitions provide an average short-term boost of £178M to the UK economy.
Research by Professor Philip Thomas in the School of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences has informed a report to help the UK Government and the nuclear industry make policy and investment decisions regarding nuclear power. His research assessed the impact of future power plants on human mortality and took into account the fuel supply chain, construction, operation and decommissioning. The findings showed that coal power has the highest impact mainly due to the effects of pollution emissions and that nuclear has the lowest impact.
City is also leading the largest study into telecare and tele-health, which involves the use of technological devices to monitor patient health remotely. Of the research, the Prime Minister commented, "We've done the trial, it's been a huge success and now we're on a drive to roll this out nationwide with an aim to improve three million lives over the next five years." Professor Stanton Newman, Dean of the School of Health Sciences, indicated it is promising that the initial results are already influencing health policy.
The Biomedical Engineering Research Group has developed a new transducer and evaluated it for the non-invasive treatment of heart arrhythmias. The ultrasound transducer creates precisely-focussed lesions in the heart muscle resulting in the cessation of cardiac arrhythmias. Another patented transducer from the School of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences, developed by Professor Tong Sun and Professor Ken Grattan through a project funded by the EPSRC, improves the ability to spot early warning signs of corrosion inside concrete structures, which can be the cause of large-scale disruptions such as that caused by the closure of the Hammersmith flyover in 2012.
With increasing investment in people and facilities, we can expect to see many more achievements such as these, placing City centre stage as a hub of excellence in international research.