Understanding challenges and priorities with the EPSRC

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On 29 September 2022, the University hosted a visit from the Impact and Business Engagement teams at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), led by Dr Amanda Chmura, EPSRC Deputy Director of Business and Impact Partnerships. The teams are carrying out away days at Universities to gain a better understanding of how we build partnerships, engage research users and deliver impact. Our visitors had been impressed with initiatives that have come out of the University of Bath and wanted to engage further with our community.

The visit was a chance for us to meet with the team at EPSRC, hear about initiatives and share ideas. Hosted by Professor Sarah Hainsworth, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Professor Jonathan Knight, Vice-President (Enterprise), the packed agenda helped to provide a small snapshot of some of the exciting research impact and collaborations taking place across the University.

The event started with presentations on the University’s and UKRI-EPSRC’s strategic priorities. Dr Chmura outlined EPSRC’s vision, ‘To make the UK recognised as the place where the most creative researchers can deliver world-leading engineering and physical sciences research.’  The funder is achieving this by investing in people, places, ideas, innovation and impacts, and supporting an effective ecosystem for Engineering and Physical Sciences to thrive.  EPSRC’s strategic direction included working closely with business to increase private investment and contribute to the government’s 2.4% target, enhancing prosperity through local, national and international partnerships, and contributing to all 5 UKRI strategic themes:

  • Building a green future
  • Securing better health, ageing and wellbeing
  • Tackling infections
  • Building a secure and resilient world
  • Creating opportunities, improving outcomes

We had presentations from two of our largest centres and institutes in the morning, first from Professors Chris Brace and Sam Akehurst, both Executive Directors of the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion System (IAAPS), who presented on how the University’s £70 million Institute is enabling business engagement and impact. Next, Professor Matt Davidson, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) and Executive Director of the Innovation Centre for Applied Sustainable Technologies (ICAST), and Francesca Guiso Gallisai, Operations Director, spoke about how the Centres are offering solutions for companies working on clean growth technologies.

A networking lunch was held in the 4 West Atrium, where there were poster displays and demonstrations of some of our EPSRC-funded activities, including those from the University’s Research with Impact campaign.  Our visitors had a chance to meet with research teams running the projects and it was great to see so many colleagues from the University community attending.

After lunch, Dr Neill Campbell, Director of CAMERA, led a tour of the Centre for the Analysis of Motion, Entertainment Research and Applications (CAMERA), a world-leading multi-disciplinary Centre in Intelligent Visual and Interactive Technology, supported by EPSRC investment. There they met with some of the interdisciplinary research teams working with CAMERA, including Professor James Bilzon from the Department for Health, who talked to them about his interaction with CAMERA on his research into rehabilitation and iKOALA, Dr Elena Seminati, Lecturer in the Department for Health, on clinical imaging, and Professor Eamonn O’Neill, Head of the Department of Computer Science, on Human Performance Enhancement and racket sports.

After the tour, there were presentations from Professor Knight, Vice-President (Enterprise) and Dr Helen Featherstone, Head of Public Engagement, on how the University acts as a civic anchor and supports regional engagement. They provided an overview of our activities in the region, and our strategy to ‘aspire to become a university known to make, and to be seen to make, an enhanced contribution to the economic, social, environmental and cultural life of our locality’.  Joint initiatives with B&NES Council – known as Our Shared Future – aim ‘to grow our collective problem-solving capacity by bringing together expertise from across the city’.  The Public Engagement Unit has helped to build capacity and capability to create a positive culture of public engagement with research.

This was followed by parallel roundtable discussions on Impact and Business Engagement.

The Impact roundtable, chaired by Professor Sarah Hainsworth, focused on Impact, Public Engagement, and Responsible Innovation at Bath. We started the session by setting out the governance, resources and systems available at the University of Bath to support research impact across the research life cycle, from idea generation, embedding into research, through to celebrating impact. This included leadership and collaboration through Impact Directors and their forum, the Impact Operations Group, the Research Impact team and the critical role collaboration plays.

EPSRC reflected that this very much aligned with their approach to supporting impact - embedding into processes; building capacity to ensure that impact is embedded into everything that we do. We noted that we had common key challenges around:

  • monitoring and evaluating research impact
  • the role of theory-based approaches such as Theory of Change and logic modelling
  • supporting and embedding Responsible Research and Innovation

The group, who emphasised that all impact is valued, were keen to discuss these challenges further, both as a group and wider community.

The Business Engagement roundtable, chaired by Professor Jonathan Knight, focused on how we develop existing and foster new partnerships at Bath and carry out research commercialisation. Richard Butler, Professor of Aerospace Composites, spoke of his longstanding partnership with GKN, initiated through a secondment, which significantly helped him understand the commercial environment and led to multiple collaborative opportunities. Participants agreed that researcher mobility between industry and University creates mutually beneficial links, driving the flow of knowledge and experience between organisations – researchers gain experience of business needs and industry has access to the rich knowledge base at the University. The team from EPSRC recognised and supported the need to incentivise more mobility of staff to and from industry. It was acknowledged that SMEs often struggle to access grant funding, such as EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships, due to the financial terms of the grants, particularly in the current economic climate.

Both roundtables left with a commitment to follow up on these conversations to help address common challenges and keep sharing good practice examples.

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