RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy
Record of Research Vitality
Since 1996, there have been major leaps in the development of a research culture in Geography at University College Worcester (UCW). Considerable advancement in research has been achieved through embracing fully the stated 1996 strategy of a selective approach to research funding. Following critical self-reflection on research strengths and identity since the last RAE, the research policy outlined in 1996 has been refined to permit the further concentration of research resources into a smaller number of research sub-areas. The purpose has been to increase further the quality of research in two specific and coherent sub-areas, namely Rural Geography and Applied Hydrology. Rural Geography is a particular strength of Geography at UCW and has received national and international recognition as such. Applied Hydrology has emerged as a research specialism from the ‘Applied Geomorphology’ sub-area identified in 1996. Targeting of resources in this way has also enabled the Geography Department to enhance its reputation for high quality research within the institution. The future of research in Geography at Worcester will continue to be based on this clear plan of selectively resourcing Rural Geography and Applied Hydrology. This strategy has been combined with an active research student programme so that five PhDs have been awarded in these sub-areas since 1996.
The Institutional Context
The institution has developed from Worcester College of Higher Education to become University College Worcester during the assessment period. Far from a cosmetic name-change, this reflects the conferment of taught degree awarding powers and research degree accreditation upon the institution. In accordance with the institutional Strategic Plan, the Geography UoA has played an important role in the enhancement of both the quantity and quality of research at UCW. There is greater support for staff and research students through a central Graduate School, constituted in 1999 with the specific purpose of fostering research culture throughout the institution. The Graduate School, combined with the increasing research maturity of staff in the Geography UoA, mean that geographers are now better equipped to compete for research funding than five years ago. From 1998, the Departments of Geography and Science were restructured to form a School of Environmental Sciences and Land Management at UCW, one of four Faculties. Geographers have played a key role in reconstituting the new School’s research policy and in giving approval to research proposals for higher degrees by postgraduate students. Geography makes a direct input to central research strategy. A significant institutional development, outlined in the Strategic Plan 1999-2004 and noted in 1996, has been ‘to support research selectively, increase the number of research centres and achieve a significant improvement in ratings in the next RAE’ (p.7). As a consequence, the Centre for Rural Research (CRR) was launched in 1997. Its purpose is to build upon the research sub-area of Rural Geography identified in RA2 1996. CRR reflects staff commitment, greater research experience, a growing national and international reputation in this sub-area and effective targeting of available research resources. The CRR represents an appropriate vehicle to launch bids for rural research funding from both research grants and competitively tendered consultancy contracts with external clients. It has proved to be a highly successful initiative in that funds generated using CRR as a focus have facilitated an enhancement in the development of rural geography research. The CRR has also provided a very effective mechanism for promoting and sustaining an active research culture, serving to reinforce the research identity of geographers in this sub-area whilst simultaneously fostering a new research dimension through the introduction of a competitive consultancy element. A key additional benefit of the expansion of contract research is that reports, papers and articles produced have demonstrated the relevance of geography to policy-makers and the local community. The Applied Hydrology sub-area represents a refinement of the 1996 sub-area of Applied Geomorphology. The sub-area is now more specific due to the volume of contract research and consultancy generated through hydrological expertise. The activities of the member of staff in this sub-area have also contributed to the success of the CRR. Links between physical and human elements of the discipline through Applied Hydrology and Rural Geography have therefore been actively exploited in a research context. Additionally, the Applied Hydrology sub-area interacts with the Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS) Group associated with the Department, assisting the development of geomorphological research in a wider sense.
Changes in Geography Staffing since 1996
The Geography UoA now has fewer staff than in the 1996 submission in which eight research active and 4.5 research non-active staff were recorded. Hence, the submitted UoA is somewhat different from that anticipated in the 1996 ‘Future Plans’. Of the research active staff in 1996, Bryant has moved to central administration and Emberlin is now submitted under the Biological Sciences UoA, reflecting the changing nature of her work. Barrett has moved away from Geography to become Field Leader for courses in Heritage Studies and Women’s Studies within the institution. Two staff (Hill and Yarwood) present in 1996 have left to take up other posts in academia; only Yarwood is included in this submission. The Geography UoA now comprises 6.5 members of staff, four of whom are submitted as research active. Three staff are associated with the Rural Geography sub-area and one with Applied Hydrology. All have completed PhDs in Geography and published in their specialist areas within the discipline. Of the 2.5 staff not research active, one is due to retire in summer 2001 and one is a young member of staff who has started to publish work but is in the process of developing a fuller research profile. With all staff in the UoA clearly maturing in their research performance from the 1996 position, research policy in Geography recognises the need to support this process. Staff development in research is assured through the UCW staff ‘Review and Development’ system in which the needs and goals of researchers are identified, assessed and supported. Geographers enjoy the benefits of a centralised system of research training courses, such as those for the supervision of research studentships and the management of research projects. Research profiles of geographers have been further facilitated through funding for participation in national and international conferences and seminars.
Responses to the Challenge of Geographical Research
Members of the UoA have risen to the challenge of producing quality research, with clear evidence of international excellence emerging in specific cases. Both the quantity and quality of output per entrant has increased. One telling indicator of growing maturity is that members of the UoA have published individually, in combination and in collaboration with younger researchers in other institutions. The 1996 goal of entering over 70% of all Geography Department staff as research active will be attained in Summer 2001, and that to submit 80% of staff under 50 has already been reached. Moreover, the considerable development of the Rural Geography sub-area and the launch of the CRR demonstrates the effectiveness of a policy based on concentration of resources. As a result, the institution has been confident enough to release resources to further geographical research, amounting to approximately £30,000 since the last exercise. Indeed, the effectiveness of Geographers in internal competition for a limited number of University College Research Studentships is a credit to the quality of research produced by members of the UoA. Since 1996, five postgraduates have successfully completed PhD Studentships, four full-time and one part-time. Three have been in the Rural Geography sub-area and two in Applied Hydrology. Two further full-time studentships have been created in Rural Geography since 1997, both using match-funding secured by supervisors. Five part-time research students (four rural, one geomorphology) are also registered, with a further two part-time students in other Faculties supervised by geographers. Postgraduates in Geography are located in the Graduate School, allowing for maximum interaction between research students of all disciplines. All postgraduates have an office and IT provision. Two subject-dedicated laboratories, one for geomorphology and one IT, are available for use by postgraduate researchers in Geography. In short, postgraduate research in Geography has an outstanding rate of success given the age profile of the UoA members who have completed their own PhDs within the last ten years. The ability to supervise and conduct quality research, is unequivocally demonstrated (see RAE 6). Two members of the UoA (Yarwood and Evans) have been successful in securing grants for academic research from awarding bodies, including the Royal Geographical Society and Nuffield Foundation. Two research project bids to ESRC have also been made, one by each of these UoA members, but not funded. The development of quality research has been fostered mainly using income raised from external clients via CRR. Evans has conducted research at the national level for several important UK countryside agencies, including English Nature, the Countryside Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in addition to work for partnerships and conservation organisations at the regional level. Yarwood and Storey have conducted research for European, national and local organisations, including West Mercia Police, the Housing Corporation, Advantage West Midlands (the West Midlands Regional Development Agency) and under LEADER II. Therefore, CRR has a growing reputation for the production of quality research at all geographical scales. The increase in financial turnover of the CRR reflects the activities of these three researchers (RA4). Together, research work in the two sub-areas has generated employment for 6 full-time Research Assistants at various times since 1996 and thereby furthered their future career prospects. It is important to stress that findings from contract research have been disseminated through academic publication, and that the approach has been treated as a means to facilitate this end. An advantage has been that geographical research at Worcester has forged new relationships outside academia with a wide range of commercial, advisory, charitable and government research users. For example, Maddock has generated significant income from regional water authorities, the Environment Agency and the NERC-sponsored Centre for Ecology and Hydrology over the review period. It should be noted that, due to time constraints, he has had to be highly selective from the numerous invitations received to tender for research work. The research environment for Geography at UCW is enhanced by an annual research lecture series given by leading geographers (Lovatt Lectures) and a geography research seminar programme involving a mixture of internal and external speakers. CRR also had the distinction of hosting the annual conference of the Rural Economy and Society Study Group (RESSG) in 1998 which greatly assisted in its resurgence, a reflection of the prominence of rural geography research at University College Worcester. Assistance was also given to the University of Leicester in hosting the First Anglo-Spanish Symposium on Rural Geography in autumn 1996, and UCW Geography will joint-host the 2001 Anglo-French Rural Geography meeting with Kingston University. These activities are additional to invitations accepted by individual researchers to give research seminars in the UK and overseas (see RA6), and presentations made to local groups (such as rural clergy). An Occasional Research Papers series was initiated in 1999 as another method of increasing accessibility to research in Geography and demonstrating the significant growth of research culture and output. Overall, there has been a fundamental strengthening of research in Geography at University College Worcester since 1996. The previous RAE rating of 1 indicated that there had been ‘levels of national excellence in none, or virtually none, of the research activity submitted’ at that time. With both the quality and quantity of the advancements made, well beyond those evident in 1996, virtually all the research activity submitted demonstrates national excellence, and much displays international excellence.
Future research in Geography at University College Worcester will develop successfully because:
• research will remain concentrated in the sub-areas of Rural Geography and Applied Hydrology;
• the output of quality research will be driven by staff enthusiasm and ability;
• bids for research grants and competitive tendering will help to fund research work;
• staff will be enabled in the production of high quality geographical research through the funding of sabbaticals, ‘buying out’ from teaching and the employment of research fellows and assistants;
• Geography will continue to compete effectively for institutional research studentships;
• members of the UoA will publish research findings in high quality, peer-reviewed, international journals within and beyond the disciplinary boundaries;
• geographers will supervise postgraduates and examine research theses;
• recruitment of replacement staff will focus on the research specialisms identified.
Due to its success, a policy of resource concentration to research in Rural Geography and Applied Hydrology will be continued. It will facilitate the further development of all UoA members’ research profiles. Where obtained, funds will continue to be used to finance research studentships and reduce the significant teaching and administrative loads which all UoA members have to balance against their research commitments. CRR has employed a full-time Research Officer since spring 2000 and other Research Assistants will continue to be hired to assist academic staff with consultancy and contract research as required. Bids for research studentships will continue and a wide range of potential sources of funding will be explored. It is anticipated that the significant growth in experience of UoA staff in research supervision achieved since 1996 will facilitate this process.
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Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL
Last updated 17 October 2003
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