Category / Research themes

Environmental Change and Biodiversity (Adrian Newton)

Authors: Adrian Newton (Applied Sciences)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: We are currently experiencing a global biodiversity crisis, with high rates of species extinction and widespread habitat loss resulting from human activities. Other forms of environmental change include degradation of ecosystems, pollution, overharvesting of natural resources, spread of invasive species and anthropogenic climate change. Together, these pressures are having a significant impact on the ecological processes on which human life depends.  

Scope of theme: what is included? Biodiversity loss, extinction of species, environmental degradation, loss of ecosystem condition, habitat loss, environmental pollution, climate change, depletion of natural resources. Human responses to the biodiversity crisis, including sustainable use of natural resources, protected areas, ecological restoration. Effectiveness of management and policy responses. Impacts on ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Any element that does not have a significant environmental component.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • How may extinction risk be assessed?
  • What is the current rate of biodiversity loss?
  • What are the likely effects of climate change on the world’s ecosystems and associated biodiversity?
  • How vulnerable is the earth system to biodiversity loss?
  • What are the likely effects of environmental change on provision of ecosystem services, and human wellbeing?
  • Are there tipping points in ecological processes?
  • Are there thresholds of environmental impact beyond which recovery is impossible?
  • How resilient are ecological systems to environmental change?
  • Will the earth system be able to support human society in future, if the biodiversity crisis is not addressed?
  • How can the biodiversity crisis be addressed?
  • What are the risks of ecosystem collapse?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Many of these issues are now featuring in calls from NERC (eg through the LWEC programme and the BESS programme), and from the EC.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? There is a strong potential link with the Green Economy and Sustainability, but also potential to develop links (particularly on ecosystem services) with Health and wellbeing, Recreation and leisure, Culture and society or Society & Social Change, Entrepreneurship and economic growth.

Health and Wellbeing (Carol Bond)

Authors: Carol Bond (Health and Social Care)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: Personal health and wellbeing. Understanding personal concepts of health and wellbeing, especially for people who face additional health challenges. How healthcare systems and healthcare professionals can develop to support health and wellbeing.

Scope of theme: what is included? Concepts of health

Concepts of health in people who have additional health needs

Health care professionals (education, development, ethics, attitudes, culture, power)

Experience of people with additional health needs (i.e. living with long term conditions and disability)

People’s experiences of healthcare (systems, providers, treatments, care) – and using this to improve systems and care

‘New’ technologies  in health, such as use of the internet, web 2.0 etc by people to support their own health needs and self management

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Medicine / Development of clinical procedures (focus should be on better understanding the ‘patient’ experience and using this to improve care)

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? How can publicly funded heathcare systems (the NHS) cope with the increase in people living with long term conditions

How can people be supported / encouraged to take more responsibility for managing their own health

How can the NHS achieve its aims of creating a ‘revolution for patients – “putting patients first” – giving people more information and control and greater choice about their care’  

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Not stated.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? If the theme is Society & Social Change rather than culture and society I can see a link with this theme in the area of changing public expectations of health services and societies attitudes towards health (e.g. disability,  body image, mental health) and the way that society impacts on personal health and wellbeing. There are also links with Aging, as a lot of people experience new health challenges along with the aging process.

Champions Answer the Call!

Several champions have stepped forward to help define the BU Research Themes.  You may recall I asked for people to help frame these themes and encouraged as many people as possible to step forward with their thoughts.  In fact the more views we have for each theme the more debate we can generate. 

To help this debate we are posting the detail from the templates on a special part of blog – the Themes page.  I encourage everybody to engage and to comment on the text as it is posted.  If you feel inspired then fill in a template as well!  The more people that get involved with this debate the stronger the definition of each research theme will be.  So please have your say!

For the template, please see my previous Research Themes post.

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise and Internationalisation)

Research Centres at BU: What is the way forward?

Research organisation is a vexed question.  How should we organise ourselves to maximise our research potential and foster innovation and collaboration while boosting our collective output?  Over the course of my career I have seen and participated in many different forms of research centre or grouping, from informal clusters of academics sharing ideas over coffee, to formally defined research centres.  The key to the success of all these different centres is meaningful intellectual interaction leading to a sense of purpose and output; not just talking shops, but ones focused on talk and action!  Some of the most successful centres I have seen consist of little more than a couple of established academics – say a Professor and a lecturer – and around them they have built through their own funding bids a fluid team of talented post-docs and research assistants who create the energy and drive as they push to develop their own career and often land that first lecturing job.  The role of the Professor is simply to guide and channel this energy, writing the applications to retain or employ new ‘bright things’.  This is the model I understand best with Professors leading from the front and generating their own research teams.  There are a few examples of this within BU, but not many, and I would like to see many more in the next few years.  It is a model that drives research growth and develops critical mass without a dependence on established posts.  It is also common in most research active Universities across the World.

At BU we have in recent years ‘forced’ research centres into existence, insisting that every academic belongs to a centre.  They have become establishment structures often at odds with academic groups and departments, which have a broader focus, often led by frustrated field marshals unable to inspire or direct the troops within them.  This was all elegantly brought out in the review undertaken by Professor Adrian Newton a few years ago.  A key point here was that structures for research were often at conflict with structure for education, yet at the heart of BU’s future is the duality of education and research feeding from one another in a creative fashion.  It is one of the reasons why one of the out comes of this review was a focus on academic groups or departments which combine both research and teaching.  The question needs to be asked therefore about what to do with our structure of research centres?

I have almost finished visiting all twenty five of BU’s current Research Centres and the picture is very mixed.  While some are clearly vibrant units where academics are working together to create exciting output both in education and research, others are dysfunctional neither meaningful academic networks, nor effective leadership vehicles.  Added to this mix we have the term Centres of Research Excellence, prevalent in the Strategic Plan of a few years a go.  But we never actually defined what these where and none where officially recognised, although several aspire to the crown.

To my mind there are two alternative ways of approaching the issue of research centres.  The first is based on silo-free, organic academic networks in which academic staff are free to choose where, and with whom, they work and collaborate both on education and research.  Research clusters or centres will form where there is real synergy and research output.  In this model the key is to create an environment where this can happen – where staff can mix freely and find collaborators easily both within and beyond BU and we are actively tackling this at the moment through the Collaborative Tools for Academics Project.  In this approach research would be manifest simply through output produced via the big BU Research Themes we are currently defining and not through static structures of centres or clusters.  Academic Groups and Departments would off course remain and may or may not map on to these organic, output driven clusters of academic talent.

The alternative model is to maintain and/or re-fresh our current structure of centres.  Effectively to reinforce the imposed structures which currently for some prescribe and limit academic freedom and collaborative potential.  Despite these issues it is perhaps a more inclusive model since everybody belongs somewhere, but our recent history suggests that this model limits collaboration and innovation.  There is also a hybrid model in which we recognise a few – literally one or two – Centres of Research Excellence defined clearly by a performance threshold based on output, income, reputation and research impact.  Such status would have to be won and could also be lost if performance declined.  The rest of our research would be defined via a fluid series of clusters and centres which could form and re-form as academic interaction changes over time as with the first model.

Which ever of these models we favour, and for what its worth I am inclined to either the former or the hybrid model, it is essential that we see centres of activity in the broadest sense combining both research and education.  That conflicts with academic groups based on line-management are minimized, but that we create an environment where silo-free collaboration across BU is a reality not just a dream.  So as part of the re-think around the Research Strategy at BU I am interested in hearing from you on this broad topic and look forward to your comments.

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)