Report on the Meeting of Court 10 February 2012
Leicester: A Research Intensive University
‘Research is at the core of everything that the University engages in, it is what distinguishes a leading University from any other kind of educational institution. At Leicester we are tackling the very real problems presented by the contemporary world such as; CO2 reduction and the continuity of water supply, issues relating to health such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. As an institution we also make considerable contributions to the development of social policies and social change.
What are our areas of achievement? We are:
- in the top 200 universities in the world;
- in the top 1% of institutions worldwide for research impact;
- our School of Museum Studies has been rated as having the highest proportion of world-leading research in any subject area in any UK University (RAE 2008);
- in 2010-11 our research grant income totalled £48 million; and
- in the last academic year, Professor Gordon Campbell was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor Stan Cowley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, both awards given in recognition of their major contribution to their fields.
Some examples of existing research excellence at Leicester:
- There are 100 people within the University working on diabetes research, working in alliance with the NHS. This field of research has a direct impact on primary and specialist care, locally, nationally and internationally. Diabetes research at the University has been able to attract highly competitive peer reviewed funding.
- A research project, led by Dr Phillip Lindley from our Department of the History of Art and Film and involving colleagues from the Space Research Centre, Museum Studies and Computer Science, is using a new range of techniques to allow damaged monuments to be rebuilt in a virtual environment. For the first time in centuries, archaeologists and historians will be able to view monuments as they were originally intended.
- Professors Tim Coats (Emergency Medicine), Mark Sims (Space Research Centre) and Paul Monks (Chemistry) have all worked together with their teams to develop a real time non-invasive Diagnostics Development Unit (DDU). The first of its kind the DDU project brought together colleagues from the UHL NHS Trust, Space Research, Chemistry, Cardiovascular Sciences, Emergency Medicine, IT Services, Mathematics and Infection, Immunity an Inflammation. The DDU uses smell, sight and pulse to give a holistic picture of a patient’s well-being.
- The Space Research Centre is building on over 50 years’ of University heritage in space science. There are 100 members of staff and postgraduate students working in two major research groups and the current grant and contract portfolio is ̃£20m. The centre is working with industry and research which has led to the creation of three spin-out companies and two business facing units. Academics are also working with other disciplines to explore other applications for their work, for example using Gamma ray imaging for cancer surgery.
What are our emerging Research Themes?
‘These include the creation of three new Research Centres to support the University’s commitment to research excellence.
Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, Professor of Bioengineering, leads the new Bioengineering Research Centre which aims to develop a world-leading interdisciplinary research programme to get major insights into the understanding of brain functioning. One of its main areas of research will be the study of how neurons give rise to complex brain functions.
Heiko Balzter, Professor of Physical Geography leads the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research which will establish a novel and innovative intellectual framework to understand interactions of the water cycle. It will undertake fundamental research that helps solve the problems of global biodiversity loss, water scarcity and flooding, and threats to food security. This new research field will draw together Geography, Ecology, Hydrology, Physics and Chemistry with Social Science to understand changing landscapes and the ecosystem services they provide.
Steven King, Professor of Economic and Social History leads the Medical Humanities Research Centre. This inter-disciplinary research Centre brings together colleagues and disciplinary perspectives from across the spectrum. Broadly, the Centre will be concerned with the ways in which patient/individuals/families have sought to confront illness, disability and decay and their understandings, representation and consumption of the scientific and medical knowledge that underpins therapeutic practice over the period between the seventeenth and the twenty-first centuries.
Among the key objectives these research centres will achieve is the promotion of postgraduate research opportunities. If research is anything, it has to be capable of developing the next generation of scholars who will then build up the areas in order to engage in internationally competitive work.
A campaign has recently been launched to establish up to seven more Research Professors to lead new world leading research centres.'
Why do we Research?
‘At the University we firmly believe that research and teaching are equally important. It is very important for students to be taught by the innovators who are leading the research and be inspired by them.
Research adds value to UK business and contributes to the global economy.’
What of the Future?
‘Cuts and economic constraints mean it is inevitable that universities cannot specialise in every activity. It is also inevitable that in areas that need to be equipment rich, there will have to be a sharing across research-intensive institutions. We are already actively mapping research themes that cut across institutions in the Midlands in order to draw together groups of staff and we are also looking at the equipment held in different institutions to avoid each having the same piece of expensive equipment when there are opportunities to share. This will involve a significant change in attitude amongst the academic community as they will need to identify new ways of working.
Cuts in the availability of research funding have also led to an even more competitive environment, at some Research Councils the research grant success rate is just 15%. We have to remain internationally competitive, not just in terms of attracting the funding, but also attracting academics and creating an environment in which they want to stay. We also have to be thinking about the next research areas in which we will play an international role and invest strategically in them.
Our Estate needs to continue to be developed and we are looking at new buildings as well as investing in new capital projects and refurbishing existing properties.
Most importantly we need to maintain an open mind and make the most of opportunities as they present themselves so that we firmly establish ourselves as a leading research intensive university.'