May 3, 2018, by Rob Ounsworth

Research Priority Areas: big ideas for global challenges

Guest blog by Dr Richard Masterman, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research Strategy and Performance.

At the latest RPA Information Day, I was delighted to welcome academics from the University’s Research Priority Areas, together with colleagues from Research and Innovation, and members of Professional Services who support research and knowledge exchange. The afternoon session of the event, focused on the Global Challenges Research Fund, drawing in a wider group of academics.

This event followed previous RPA information days, in exploring the University’s renewed Research Vision, and the vital role of RPAs in driving interdisciplinary discovery across our rich research ecosystem.

There is evidence of a lot of good work, and internally our RPAs have shown their value in heightening the connectivity across our dynamic research ecosystem. It is heartening to note that the RPAs support one of the pillars of the University’s Research Vision – attracting and retaining world-class talent. At an interview by a Fellowship candidate, the University’s RPA network and reputation for bringing together researchers from across disciplines was cited as a key motivation for joining Nottingham.

Focus on external funding opportunities

While the latest RPA day once again updated on RPA activities and encouraged researchers to network and explore collaborations, this event had a strong focus on external opportunities for funding.

Colleagues discussed strategic priorities for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the funding streams available, including the Industrial Challenges Research Fund, for research that tackles societal challenges.

Professor Sarah Metcalfe, lead for the University’s Developing Sustainable Societies Global Research Theme, went on to outline how best to take advantage of opportunities though the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). There is already a substantial portfolio and experience to build from and we heard from some of those who have been successful in applying, including Professor Murray Lark of the School of Biosciences, Professor Oliver Morrissey of the School of Economics and the School of Medicine’s Dr Shalini Ojha and Malcolm Bennett, Professor of Plant Sciences.

To underline the focus on external and international opportunities, breakout sessions included how the Asia Business Centre can support GCRF applications, collaborative opportunities with the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and identifying fundamental research priorities to feed into the new UKRI Strategy Priorities Fund.

Earlier, we noted that there were challenges ahead, including a goal of raising the University’s funding portfolio by 50 per cent. We are looking to the RPAs to contribute to this goal by bringing people together to prepare for the next waves of ISCF, GCRF and other large scale funding opportunities.

Big ideas to address global and societal challenges

There are now 29 Research Priority Areas.

Horizon Digital Economy Research’s Dr Sarah Martindale outlined the new Creative and Digital RPA she co-leads with Andrew Leyshon, Professor of Economic Geography, and Philosophy’s Dr Jonathan Tallant introduced the new Industrial Humanities RPA, which will enable researchers from across a breadth of disciplines to better respond to humanities challenges posed by industry.

Energy has become the Energy Technologies Research Institute. Data, Modelling and Uncertainty brings together the former RPAs Data Driven Discovery, and Modelling an Uncertain World. Translational Biomedical Imaging has become the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre to further raise the profile of the University’s world-leading reputation in this field. Healthcare Technologies is now the Centre of Healthcare Technologies, and the renamed Global Food Security RPA better captures the University’s strengths in addressing the challenge of feeding growing populations in the face of climate change.

Industrial Strategy Steering Group

In conclusion, colleagues showed that the successful establishment of the University’s Research Priority Areas is being followed by increased capacity to work with our partners to present ‘big ideas’ that offer dynamic responses to global and societal challenges. A common thread of funding successes shared on 27 March was the ability to offer agile, cross-disciplinary responses to funding opportunities, and to demonstrate solid research partnerships with international collaborators and industry in order to secure such funding.

The key message is that the Government wants to get the money out of the door. Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange, has set up an Industrial Strategy Steering Group with the aim of aligning our research with these opportunities.

It is essential for all of us to be alert to funding opportunities, share best practice and support our world-leading research activity that aligns to the UK’s strategic priorities.

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