As many of you will know, our University was established on 25 October 1966 by Royal Charter, so our 54th anniversary was on Sunday. Our Royal Charter sets out that “The objects of the University shall be to advance learning and knowledge by teaching and research, particularly in science and technology, and in close association with industry and commerce”.
Inevitably, in the last few months we have had to focus more than usual on learning, teaching and student experience, given the extraordinary circumstances we are living through. This week, I wanted to say a few words about the other pillar of our University’s work, our research, which remains a key priority and is of fundamental importance to our mission.
Research facilities during the pandemic
At the outset, I would like to express my deep gratitude for all the work that has been done to ensure that the majority of research laboratories are open and functional, albeit with reduced capacity. I would like to acknowledge and thank the invaluable work of our technicians in this endeavour. The use of rotas, social distancing and the other measures informed by risk assessments are clearly of utmost importance in order to maintain the safe operation of laboratories and to ensure the continued advance of our research.
I understand that many colleagues are now reflecting on their experiences of having our laboratories running for several months, and whether any changes might be made to the use of space or adapting our practices. I look forward to hearing more from colleagues about what we have learned and what we may do differently.
The commendable engagement of our research community has helped to maintain Covid-secure laboratories and associated research facilities. I know that everyone in the research community will want to try and avoid further disruption to our programmes in the months to come and trying to achieve that aim has been a core part of our planning.
As I reflected last week, we are aware that Covid-19 cases are increasing locally and we are planning for a number of scenarios including additional restrictions either at a local or national level. Although there may be circumstances where individual laboratories or groups of laboratories have to be closed temporarily, we intend to make every effort to keep our research laboratories open while keeping them Covid-secure. We will, of course, keep engaging with you over the weeks to come, and particularly if we need to make any changes to our overall arrangements.
I have been delighted to see that research colleagues from across the Faculties and School of Management have been so nimble and proactive in realigning their work to meet the demands of the pandemic. An array of new research from our academics is helping us to understand the science of the virus, its health and psychological effects and the impacts on business, the economy and wider society. Innovative ideas have arisen from new forms of research networking too and it has been heartening to see new collaborations emerge. Many of these initiatives continue to be promoted in the media and on our Covid-19 news pages.
Post-graduate research students
Our post-graduate research (PGR) students are, of course, incredibly important to our research endeavours. I was really pleased to see one of our PhD students, Scott Wellington, on BBC Points West earlier this week, featuring his fascinating research investigating whether gaming headsets can be used to monitor brainwaves to produce speech.
Earlier this week, Executive Board received an update from Professor Jeremy Bradshaw, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International & Doctoral) on enrolments of post-graduate research students for 2020-21. I was very pleased to hear that the latest numbers for full-time PGR enrolments show an intake of 228 new full-time doctoral students at the start of term, compared to a target of 232 and last year’s equivalent autumn intake of 216. In addition, I understand 52 new part-time doctoral students have also started in this academic year so far. My sincere thanks and congratulations to all those involved in this achievement, including in academic departments and the Doctoral College.
Supporting all our students, whether undergraduate, post-graduate taught or PGR continues to be a real priority for us, particularly as we know that some of our students are facing hardship in light of the pandemic. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all in our community for their kindness and generosity in supporting our hardship fund appeal which supports students who are facing financial difficulty and to the Department for Development and Alumni Relations and Student Services for this initiative. With 35% of the £75k target being achieved within the first 48 hours, we can clearly see the commitment of the University, our alumni and supporters to helping our students.
Bath Beacons initiative
As I said last week, increasing research income and power is going to be a crucial part of our future strategic direction.
One emerging initiative which will support this aim is the “Bath Beacons” scheme, being led by Professor Jonathan Knight, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) for an initial period of at least one year as a pilot. The project is proposed in order to stimulate and nurture the ambition of researchers within the University, and to provide leadership in the submission of large funding bids of more than £2 million. The primary focus areas will be within the broad themes of Digital, Sustainability, and Health and Wellbeing.
Support provided may include resources to work with the community of researchers, such as through workshops or sandpit activities, targeted support from RIS, or being provided “buy-out” time to complete the preparation and writing of large grant proposals.
This initiative will be led by Professor Knight and managed by a Steering Group who will be overseeing its development; further details will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
Research Excellence Framework
Finally, the University is entering the final sprint to complete our submission to the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF). Significant work remains to be done across much of the University before the 31st March 2021 deadline, but this is almost entirely concerned with the preparation of the paperwork to be submitted for assessment rather than doing the research itself.
Amongst all of the preparation of documentation, this is an excellent time to reflect on the quantity and quality of the research that we do here at Bath. In particular, the 64 impact case studies being prepared for submission showcase numerous outstanding examples of the ways in which our research is contributing to building a cleaner, better, healthier and more prosperous world. It’s heartening to reflect that out of all of the work that our researchers put in, there emerges so much that is of genuine and lasting value.
With warm good wishes,
Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President