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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Introduction: The Open University plays a leading role in conducting research and education across a wide range of disciplines, including General Engineering. Research activities are focused on the central campus, where most of the research community works, and where the laboratory-based facilities, archives and library are situated. In addition, research throughout the UK, especially by academic staff in regional centres and part-time research students, is increasingly fostered by means of the library’s rapidly expanding online resources. Recently, the University has strengthened its research environment through four main innovations: rationalising its management structure; introducing an institutional level research plan; establishing a Research School; and setting up an Intellectual Property Management Office. Strategic direction of research activities across the University is provided by The University Research Board chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Staff). The Faculty of Technology has a Research Board chaired by the Sub-Dean (Research). The Board is responsible for the development of the Faculty's research strategy, co-ordinating financial and organisational support for research, and allocating a proportion of internal research funds and internally-funded studentships on a competitive basis. There is an active and rapidly growing training programme for full time research students which supplements the training and development provided at University level. The Faculty holds mode A recognition from the ESRC.
Research training provision and monitoring students' progress: On starting their research degree, students take part in the research induction programmes organised by the University Research School and the Faculty of Technology. All students are encouraged to complete the Doctoral Training Programme, which is organised by the Faculty in collaboration with other Units in the University. During the last year, this programme has been developed in an extended version into a Masters Course, which will run from October 2001. The University has produced a study pack (U500 Doing Academic Research) which is sent to all students (internal and external, part-time and full-time). There are a number of additional resources and courses that can be integrated into the student's programme, depending on need. Students also benefit from subject-specific seminars which take place regularly within the Faculty, and other fora inside and outside the University. The effectiveness of the training is assessed by supervisors as part of the regular monitoring and supervision of the student's progress. Almost all research students are co-supervised by two academic staff, thus providing for more effective monitoring as well as day-to-day supervision. Annual progress reports are completed by the supervisors and the student's Head of Department. Third party monitoring, independent of the student's supervisors and Head of Department, is also carried out annually.
Staffing Policy: The Faculty's research strategy contains a number of objectives which address the development and support of the research work of staff. Provision is made for the mentoring and training of those new to post-graduate supervision and the first of a number of research days for new staff to help integrate them into the Faculty has recently been held. Departments hold regular research days and there are informal seminars given by research groups throughout the Faculty. In addition to normal research time, staff are entitled to study leave (two months per year for central academic staff) to allow time for research and other scholarly activities. Studentships and research grants of up to £30,000 are awarded, on a competitive basis, by the University Research Funding and Development Committee and the Faculty has a similar provision for small grants, up to £2500, and for travel to international conferences. Support is also given in the various Faculty Departments, by the University Research School and by a senior administrator and Research Secretary in the Faculty.
General Engineering: Research in General Engineering is centred in the Faculty of Technology and is organised in five areas: Acoustics, Waste Management, Applied Systems, Information and Communication Technologies and Forensic Engineering. The work of these groups is characterised by an interdisciplinary approach to research issues of interest to engineers, technologists and developers and users of systems theory. The promotion of interdisciplinarity and innovation has been embedded in the philosophy of the Faculty since its inception in 1971. For Applied Systems in particular, there are difficulties of fit between departmental structure and the UoA framework. There is a general recognition within the Engineering profession that systems thinking and approaches are desirable. However, there is no single relevant RAE category and many other Systems Groups will in 2001 submit to Library and Information Sciences, Management and Operations Research Panels. For this reason we request that research in Applied Systems is referred to the Library & IS panel which has Systems research named as a specific interest. Related technological research in Design, Materials, Technology Strategy and Management, Energy and Environment, and Development Studies is being submitted to other units of assessment.

A. Acoustics: The 1996-2000 period of assessment has been one of development and renewal for the Acoustics Research Group (Prof Attenborough [30], Dr Ferreira [6], Dr Sharp [23], Dr Taherzadeh [25]). The group is co-directed by Sharp (appointed in 1998 to replace Dr Li [31] ) and Taherzadeh (appointed in 1999 to replace Attenborough who has become a visiting professor, having left the group to take up the post of Head of the Department of Engineering, University of Hull). Recently, another new academic, Ferreira, has been appointed and is working with the group. The appointment of Taherzadeh, together with the visiting academic status of Attenborough, has ensured the continued international success of the outdoor sound propagation research. Meanwhile, the appointments of Sharp and Ferreira have expanded the group's activities to include musical acoustics research and the development of acoustical measurement techniques. The group receives the majority of its funding from EPSRC, The Leverhulme Trust and Industry. It has a current membership of 14 including postdoctoral research assistants, PhD students and support staff. The group holds fortnightly informal seminars to ensure that all members are kept informed of research developments.
Outdoor Sound Propagation: The Acoustics Research Group at the OU has an international reputation for research in numerical modelling of sound propagation outdoors and the effect of ground surfaces on sound propagation. Research is being carried out by a post-doctoral research fellow (funded internally under the Open University Strategic Research Initiative) to study sound propagation above complex terrain (including impedance discontinuities) in the presence of atmospheric refraction and turbulence. This study involves the extension of existing numerical models developed at the OU along with scale model and outdoor sound propagation measurements to validate the models. Work is also continuing to develop a hybrid numerical sound propagation model (BIE/FFP) that allows for an uneven ground (including barriers and/or hills) as well as a refracting turbulent atmosphere. This work, started earlier at the OU, is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Hull. The original funding for this work comes from DERA Malvern.
Development of Acoustical Measurement Techniques: Experimental work is being carried out to adapt flow visualisation techniques such as Particle Image Velocimetry and Laser Induced Fluorescence to allow measurement of pressure, velocity and acoustic impedance in resonant sound fields. The research is being carried out by a PhD student funded by an EPSRC grant of £53,242 awarded under the FastStream initiative. Work is also being carried out to improve the non-invasive measurement technique of acoustic pulse reflectometry. The technique involves injecting a sound pulse into a duct of unknown dimensions and measuring the resultant reflections. Suitable analysis of the reflections enables the internal dimensions to be calculated. At present, there is a limit to the length of duct that can be accurately measured. A PhD student (funded internally by the Open University Research Funding and Development Committee) is currently working on overcoming this length limitation. An EPSRC grant of £101,824 (part of a £234,437 award made to the Open University and University of Edinburgh for a collaborative project with Rolls Royce and Fluid Controls Ltd), which started in January 2001, has also enabled a post-doctoral research assistant to be employed to work on improvements to the acoustic pulse reflectometry technique.
Musical Acoustics: The effect of wall material on the timbre of musical wind instruments has long been debated. Work is being carried out by a PhD student (EPSRC quota studentship) using Laser Doppler Velocimetry and psycho-acoustical measurements to try to quantify the effect. Another PhD student (funded by an OU competitive studentship) is working on a project concerned with the investigation, identification and implementation of a neural network configuration that will effect the classification of sounds into spectromorphological categories. Preliminary work, in collaboration with instrument makers T.W.Howarth and Co. Ltd, has been carried out to investigate the effect of the bassoon crook profile on the playing properties of the instrument.

B. Waste Management Research: The formation in 1999 of the Integrated Waste Systems Group (Dr Barratt [2], Dr Burnley [4], Mr Frederickson [8], Dr Morris [17], Dr Nesaratnam [18], Dr Parfitt [20] and Dr Thomas [26]), an interdisciplinary research and consultancy group specialising in sustainable and integrated waste management, has brought together a number of areas of research and has led to new areas of collaboration. This has been an important new development in the Unit of Assessment. The Group has 13 members, including PhD students and support staff, working on a wide spectrum of waste management issues. It holds formal meetings on a monthly basis to exchange ideas and develop research. Three members of the group (Burnley, Parfitt and Thomas) are recent appointments. Current and completed work since the last RAE includes:

Integrated waste management and environmental management: Assessing the implications of the landfill directive on waste management in the UK and developing strategies to allow the UK to comply with the directive (Burnley for the Environment Agency); the development of models for assessing the environmental impact of integrated waste management systems (Burnley and Parfitt), work on environmental management, including waste reduction, environmental management systems, environmental reporting and the role of tools such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) (Barratt); and innovation in sustainable waste management (Frederickson). The Group has recently obtained £130,000 for a two-year landfill tax credit funded project which involves Thomas, Burnley, Frederickson and Parfitt. The project aims to develop a framework for creating integrated waste management strategies, based on local conditions and which are truly relevant to local needs. The results of the project will have international significance. Key inputs will come from the Composting Association and Hampshire County Council (a partner in Project Integra) who have agreed to provide vital access to schemes and data. Further collaboration will be pursued through the Group's working links with the public and private sectors and government agencies.
Biological processing of wastes: Work on full-scale composting experiments at Morpeth (for the Environment Agency); the use of earthworms for environmental management using large-scale composting; evaluation of traditional windrow composting and vermicomposting for the stabilization of waste paper sludge; optimising processing conditions for composting to improve product quality and environmental impact; evaluating the use of different types of composts in sustainable land restoration and agricultural systems (Frederickson); and the use of worms in land reclamation (Morris).
Municipal waste recycling: Assessment of the UK’s first regional recycling scheme based in Peterborough (Entrust/ Valpak funded joint project with School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia); and development of methodologies for the estimation of local authority household waste recycling rates to underpin calculation of statutory recycling rates in England and Wales (Parfitt).
Public awareness and behaviour in waste management
: A benchmarking investigation into public and local authority leader attitudes to waste and waste management, which, for the first time, linked public views on recycling and the ease of use of recycling facilitates with DETR data on recycling infrastructure provision (Burnley and Parfitt); and a project on public participation and understanding in recycling schemes in collaboration with Hampshire CC, funded by a £27,000 grant from the Open University Research Development Fund (Thomas).
Waste generation and compositional statistics: Review of household waste data quality and work on methodological problems associated with the National Household Waste Analysis Programme (NHWAP) (Parfitt for the Department of the Environment); the characterisation of household waste arisings and their disposal routes (Nesaratnam for the DETR); applying novel methods to the estimation of waste flows across a number of key sectors (municipal, commercial, industrial and healthcare); the development of an innovative Geographical Information Systems (GIS) decision support tool for municipal waste planning at the local level (Entrust/ South Norfolk Council funded - joint project with School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, total value £60,000); management of the DETR’s annual survey of municipal waste management (estimates obtained from the analysis undertaken by the OU were used in the June 2000 National Waste Strategy; the statistical classification of local authority waste collection and recycling infra-structure is to be used as a basis of the NHWAP) (Parfitt); and research on waste compositional data analysis, funded by Hampshire CC (£8000) (Thomas).
Combustion residues: The processing of incineration fly ash (Burnley and Parfitt), work on trace metals in particulate matter; and air quality management with reference to monitoring and the management of air quality data, especially for trace components in airborne and deposited particulate matter (Barratt).

C. Applied Systems: In the period since the last RAE, the Applied Systems Group has undertaken a radical restructuring of its research which, in turn, has generated new research and consultancy opportunities. This has also been linked to the restructuring of the former Department of Systems as the Centre for Complexity and Change. In previous RAE submissions, research was more explicitly linked with Technology Management and Innovation (TM&I). The research interests of the current group diverged as TM&I evolved as a sub-disciplinary field of its own, although the Group's research is still concerned with Technology Management in its generic sense. The Group consists of Prof Ison [12], Prof Peters [21], Dr Fortune [7], Dr Lane [14], Dr Morris [17], Dr Ramage [22] and Dr Simon [24]. Ramage and Simon were appointed in 2000. The Group has pursued two main themes over the period.
Environmental Decision Making & Sustainable Development: Ison has an established international reputation in the development and evaluation of systemic, participatory and process-based environmental decision making, natural resource management, organisational change and R&D methodologies. Based on this reputation, Ison and other colleagues were commissioned by the (now) Department for International Development (UK) to conduct a major review of systems approaches to sustainable natural resource management. In February 2001, the project Social Learning for the Integrated Management and Sustainable Use of Water at Catchment Scale (SLIM) (1,226,215 euros - EVK1-2000-00695) in FP5 (Key Action Water) commenced. SLIM research will involve Ison (co-ordinator), Morris and Simon together with other colleagues from the OU. 'Social learning', which is central to non-coercion, and important in the fulfilment of the EU Directive on Catchment Management, needs to be much better understood. The SLIM project assembles an interdisciplinary group of researchers from five countries. They will study social learning through fora of stakeholders in catchments of different type, scale, and socio-economic situations. The usefulness of social tools and methods developed from their research and in other spheres, such as soft-systems analysis, will be tested. The output will be strategic planning methodologies and social tools for the integrated management of water at catchment or river-basin scale and other 'bundles' of natural resources. Research has also been conducted on the use of a novel systems-based method for environmental decision making. The work has indicated the strengths and weaknesses of this method in encouraging full stakeholder participation in such decisions. It builds on the practical experience with the TIBRE programme of Scottish Natural Heritage, but extends the ideas to a wider variety of contexts. The work has led to several publications examining the factors relating to the sustainability of agricultural methods, particularly with respect to their environmental impacts and resource costs and to the risks associated with current production methods (Morris). Work looking at both the attitudes and actions of different stakeholders in managing landscapes and other natural resources, both rural and urban has also been conducted. Recent work includes research into how hedgerows are viewed in the landscape by farmers, expert advisers and the public (Lane); on looking at community participation in sustainable fisheries management (Ison and Lane); farm management information systems for participative agricultural development (Morris), and farmers attitudes and actions with respect to farmland bird species (Morris). Another project involved a highly innovative development of a methodology for using metaphors for stakeholders to explore their understandings of English countrysides and farming (Ison).
Other projects recently completed or underway include: (i) Research on the definition and calculation of the 'sustainability gap' in the UK for various types of pollutants and environmental resources carried out by Simon for the NGO 'Forum for the Future', funded by the WWF (UK). The project also dealt with indicators of sustainability, green accounting and the calculation of defensive environmental protection expenditures; (ii) an investigation of how a major international project 'Policies that Work', within the Sustainable Agriculture Programme of the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) and the Indian NGO, SPEECH, can be understood as a 'Learning System' (Ison); and (iii) an exploration of the organisational and structural constraints within pathfinder companies (e.g. Air BP) to moving towards actions that could be regarded as on a sustainable development trajectory (Ison in collaboration with the environmental NGO, The Natural Step UK Ltd);
Institutional change and learning: Research in this area since the last RAE has concentrated on applying systems thinking to higher education, the application and development of the Systems Failure Method, and applied research in using ICT to design 'learning systems'. Morris' research in this area explores why the existence of a particular technology, which appears to provide a solution to a perceived problem, may or may not result in more effective learning. Research into the use of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) as a learning medium has shown that the medium has considerable potential, but that current ideas about effective use are still in their infancy. Lane with Dr Bell (submitted under Development Studies in UoA 35) has examined the impact of new technologies on the OU's teaching system. This is a continuing research topic of international relevance. Work conducted in this theme with members of the ICT group, particularly Weller [28], is at the forefront of industrial scale innovation in ICT-related developments for supported open-learning.

Peters used The Systems Failures Method, a systemic approach for which he and Fortune are internationally recognised, to examine the UK National Commission into Higher Education Report (Dearing Report). Fortune is continuing to develop the Systems Failures Method. Tools are being developed to deal with ethical issues and greater emphasis is also being placed on the Method’s role as a risk identification / risk avoidance device in project management and information systems development and operation and as a source of lessons for organisational learning. Fortune has also made links between her failures work and her other academic interest: quality management. New work in this area began in 2000 with a project to look at quality management in the agricultural industry. Ramage has worked on an evaluation of co-operative systems (generalisable to all IT systems), and on how to help organisations make decisions as to the future of their legacy computer systems. This involves perspectives and methods from both software engineering and organisational analysis.
Other projects in this theme include: (i) an investigation of the relationship between learning organisations and learning communities and identification of practices and understandings which constrain innovation in this arena (Ison and Prof Wield (submitted under Development Studies in UoA 35) in collaboration with COUNTEC); (ii) the application of systems thinking to project management (Fortune); and (iii) an investigation of the systemic, cultural and environmental analysis, design and implementation for learning information systems using RAD/ Prototype and Soft Systems approaches (Simon and Bell (submitted under Development Studies in UoA 35)).

D. Information and communication technologies: Research into information technology has been greatly strengthened and extended since the 1996 RAE submission. Following the last RAE, the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering was restructured as the Department of Telematics, with the subsequent appointment of Bissell [3] to a new established Chair in Telematics in 1999. Research strategy focuses on three related areas, which have been expanded in the period under review, and which will constitute the main focus for the forthcoming period:
Artificial Intelligence: Research in this area is centred on the Intelligent Computer Systems Research Group (Dr Ferreira [6], Dr Hopgood [29], Dr Hirst [11], Ms Kear [13] and Dr Weller [28]) which was founded in 1998. The Group’s Director over the period under review, Hopgood, has attracted £155,641 from the EPSRC for the investigation of automated optimisation and control of low-pressure plasma deposition processes, as well as considerable internal funding. Hopgood took up a Chair in Computing at Nottingham Trent University on 1 Jan 2001. To ensure continuity in the research he has directed, he remains a Visiting Professor, and is to be replaced at Readership level. Other current projects include various applications of genetic algorithms and intelligent agents, in particular a collaboration with Rolls Royce to apply AI techniques to the interpretation of ultrasonic images, and the continuing development and application of an in-house blackboard architecture. An internally funded full-time research student has recently begun a project in the development of robust genetic algorithms under the supervision of the recently-appointed Hirst, while other current PhD projects include the application of AI to plant monitoring, graphics modelling and oral lesions.
Social and pedagogical context of ICT: Earlier pedagogical and telematics research has grown significantly, with the work of Dr Alexander [1] and Weller on large-scale computer-mediated and Web-based systems; Kear’s project on the technological support of remote group work; and subject-specific pedagogical research by Prof Bissell, Dr Dillon [5], Prof Monk [16] and others. A new strength is in the history and philosophy of ICT, particularly Bissell’s continuing research on the history of control and automation, and Monk’s work on the philosophical and social implications of the new digital technologies - both researchers recognised by international awards (in 1997 and 1998). The Faculty’s Education and Technology Interest Group (EATING) was established in 1999, and rapidly became a major focus for discussion and early presentation of research in both these areas; four refereed publications so far have derived directly from group meetings.
Mains-borne communications: This small, but highly active, group consists of Dr Newbury [19] together with a number of research students. The group has seen a steady flow of refereed publications and research student completions, as well as a significant international presence in standardisation activity.

E. Forensic Engineering: The Forensic Engineering and Materials Group (Mr Gagg [9], Dr Greasley [10], Dr Lewis [15] and Dr Weidmann [27]) was established in 1991 by Reynolds, the eminent Forensic Metallurgist. Members of the group continue to operate as a renowned centre of excellence for forensic and materials engineering and it has recently been expanded by the appointment of Moffatt as a lecturer. With the growth of Forensic Engineering as an academic subject and the arrival of internationally acclaimed journals such as the Engineering Failure Analysis, the group has increasingly presented its work within the published literature in addition to court reports and patent adjudications. The group possesses Forensic experience covering a wide range of materials and structures. Lewis is an acknowledged expert in the forensic analysis of polymers. He also specialises in patent litigation involving plastic product design and manufacture and replacement of metal by polymers in components and artefacts. Weidmann is well known as one of the few national experts on the fracture of glass. His recent cases have included a £4M damages claim involving broken glass in beer bottles, and a criminal trial over an alleged assault with a broken beer bottle. Gagg’s forensic work is primarily centred on investigating the cause of accidents. He also has interests in lead and lead-free solder systems including an active input into the investigation of materials properties against which candidate replacement alloys may be compared. Greasley’s forensic work is centred mainly on the failure of components. This has lead to a major interest in the impact performance of Dental Mouthguards. He has pioneered a new in-vitro test for mouthguard impact resistance which is currently being developed in conjunction with Dutch, French and Canadian workers. This work has influenced the British Standards Institute Panel PH/3/11/2 on "Sports Mouthguards" who have recently issued a relevant Draft for Development which allows for detailed comment over two years before conversion into a full standard. Dr Edwards, who also contributes to this group, is submitted under UoA 32.


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Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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