October 31, 2018, by Rob Ounsworth

Celebrating the achievements of our Research Priority Areas

In 2014 we established our Research Priority Areas (RPAs), which have become a vital part of the University’s research ecosystem. RPAs provide a platform for multi-disciplinary collaboration spanning across our faculty and school structures, with some extending their reach, engagement and collaboration globally.

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

We’ve invested over £5m in the RPAs in the last four years, both through direct allocation and competitive call, contributing to nearly 500 grants being secured from external funding sources worth over £300m. Over 600 research outputs have been identified through the RPA process and over 900 staff have directly engaged with the RPA programme.

The RPAs are an integral part of our Research Vision and provide a direct route to achieving its goals to increase research quality, funding, impact and to enhance reputation. In addition, they have proven to be an excellent vehicle to build and shape collaborative networks both across the University and internationally, and are directly contributing to delivering key aspects of the University’s Research Vision.

The case studies highlighted here demonstrate the distinctive and varied activities of the RPAs, which have resulted in them achieving a diverse set of outcomes over the past four years. Some have focused on securing major grants which contribute to the portfolios of University-designated centres or institutes. Others have concentrated on building communities of best practice or developing networks for early career researchers which develop the capacity and ambition for more adventurous research. In all cases the RPAs have been instrumental in contributing to the individual successes.

The responsive and flexible nature of the RPA system has meant that RPAs have been able to set their own priorities and change their areas of emphasis over time in response to changes in both the internal and external landscapes. For example, with the creation of the Beacons of Excellence in 2017 a number of RPAs merged, closed or changed emphasis/leadership. This highlights that many of the Beacon programmes grew out of initial activities and collaborations fostered at RPA level.

Emphasised by the launch of UKRI in April 2018 there has been a significant change in the external research landscape, with a growing emphasis on team-based, challenge-led, and multidisciplinary research. Our RPA ecosystem is well-placed to respond to these changes, bringing benefit to individuals and teams applying for major grants and helping to seed proposals which draw on multiple disciplines for major challenge-led calls.

Our current RPA ecosystem complements the programmatic, challenge-led approach of the Beacons by facilitating, enabling, seeding and pump-priming the development of new and speculative avenues for research and impact. Drawing on the full breadth and diversity of disciplines in the University, working across organisational structures and disciplinary boundaries.

As the RPA ecosystem evolves, it helps to realise the potential of our research breadth and diversity, also drawing in co-creators from industry, the public sector, the NHS, and other stakeholders of research. A strong and vibrant RPA ecosystem will ensure that the University can respond rapidly and successfully to new cross-disciplinary and challenge-led funding opportunities both now and in the years to come.


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