Inside Track - 13 June 2017 – Professor Lisa Roberts

Research and Innovation Strategy - delivering the vision.

Professor Lisa Roberts

An enjoyable aspect of my role at the University is that pretty much every day I go home having heard something new and surprising about our research. This often leaves me feeling very proud, or thinking “I didn’t know that about Leeds”.

And for me this reveals two things: first, our research has seriously impressive quality, breadth and impact; second, we could shout more loudly about our strengths than we do.

From my first 10 months in post, I am convinced that by building on our strengths, and aligning them with ambitious goals articulated though a clear delivery plan, we can produce even more world-leading research that has significant global impact and secures a stable financial future.

Working with colleagues across the University, I have been busy creating that delivery plan.

I should say from the outset that it doesn’t change our overall goals – it is based on the existing objectives set out in our overarching Strategic Plan.

What it does do is provide the detail for how we can introduce a step change in quality, impact and income over the coming three years and how we can ensure consistency of support and enhanced collaboration across the University.

At its core is a recognition that to do these things we have to further empower our researchers by giving them the support, ambition and belief to be the best they possibly can be.

In part I am confident we can do this because we have already achieved a huge amount – in the last REF we were in the top 10 for research power and impact. This underlines that we are a leading research intensive university and that we are already better positioned for the future than many of our competitors.

Aligned with this we have been making serious investments in our facilities and our people to help deliver our ambitions. The £520 million campus investment programme, the 250 Great Minds earlier career researcher recruitment drive and the investment in research infrastructure are all clear evidence of this.

Our solid foundations are already in place, but it is clear that we need to do more to advance further, as others are not standing still. It is also clear that the external research environment is changing.

For evidence of this you need look no further than the ever greater competition for and diversification of research funding, increasing examples of that funding being aligned with external agendas like the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and the uncertainty of funding changes coming down the track from Brexit.

The universities that are able to draw on and develop their existing strengths, while being willing and able to adapt and change to fully exploit this external environment, are the ones that will thrive and prosper. It is also the case that we need to adapt and change the way we engage with the outside world, not least to seize on the diverse funding opportunities available, but also to take a strategic approach to corporate and public sector partnerships and provide support for enhanced commercialisation of our own innovations.

Which is one reason the delivery plan sets out an organised, collaborative and consistent approach to achieving our goals.

As for the specifics of the delivery plan, it sets out six high level priorities: increasing quality and impact; maximising interdisciplinarity to tackle grand challenges; growing and diversifying our research funding; promoting a vibrant postgraduate and early career researcher community; developing and supporting academics; and enhancing engagement and impact.

Under each of these headings sit a number of specific actions. Inevitably for an organisation of our size, complexity and ambition there are quite a few of these actions, and we can’t do everything at once. So for the first 12 months I have set a smaller number of imperatives: better monitoring of research quality and impact in preparation for REF 2021 (coupled importantly with enhanced staff support in these areas); enhanced support for our interdisciplinary research themes and platforms; improved forward planning of large bids; establishing a new Doctoral College; more effective and collaborative working across senior research leaders; more effective leadership of strategic partnerships; enhanced external engagement and marketing; and an ability to fast-track strategic initiatives.

As well as working closely with colleagues in the Faculties to deliver the plan, the following people will be working closely with me on specific elements of the plan:

  • Professor Tim Benton, Dean: Strategic Research Initiatives, who has responsibility for ensuring a strategic approach to large funding opportunities, identifying new strategic research partnership opportunities and for bringing in and sharing intelligence from external sources;  
  • Andy Duley, who is Director of Commercialisation, an area of increasing importance to universities as we look to have even greater impact and diversify income;
  • Professor Andy Gouldson, Dean: Interdisciplinary Research, who has responsibility for co-ordinating and supporting the strategic development of our interdisciplinary research themes and platforms and enhancing cross-Faculty working to address societal grand challenges;
  • Professor Claire Honess, currently Dean of Postgraduate Research Studies, who will take on the role of Dean of the Doctoral College when we launch in the autumn; 
  • Professor Nick Plant, Dean: Research Quality and Impact, who has responsibility for enhancing the quality and impact of our research, including ensuring first-rate support for staff, and for taking a strategic approach to our REF 2021 preparations. 
  • Ian Shortland, Director of Research and Innovation Integration and Enhancement, who has responsibility for the development and implementation of the delivery plan. Ian is also undertaking a review of our current strategic partnerships;
  • Dr Ceri Williams, Director of Research and Innovation Development, is now also responsible for the co-ordination of Theme, Platform and Faculty associated Research and Innovation Development staff. She is also leading the development of Nexus, our new innovation centre;

These colleagues will be setting out more about their roles in forthcoming communications, starting with a piece by Andy Gouldson.

We are also about to start the process of appointing a Director for Nexus, who will have the background and expertise to ensure the new innovation centre is a game changer in the way we exploit our research in collaboration with external partners.

While we need to be organised and take strategic actions to ensure we achieve our goals, as a researcher myself, I am very clear that we are researchers because we want to find answers to intractable scientific, economic and societal questions. And we want those answers to transform people’s lives in some way.

So above all else, this is a plan to put in place the support, actions and resource to enhance research across the board, whether that be in STEM subjects, social sciences, the arts and humanities, or, increasingly important,  a combination of all of the above.

Our passion for discovery and to have an impact is what drives us. If we can harness that passion, align it to a clear sighted vision for the future and a collective determination, belief and confidence, we can unlock the further potential we possess.

And by celebrating and communicating our successes widely, maybe the excellence of what we do will no longer come as a surprise to anyone.

Professor Lisa Roberts

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation

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