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Liverpool Hope University

UOA 23 - Computer Science and Informatics

RA5a: Research environment and esteem


Computer Science research at Liverpool Hope University has been identified as a key area of strength and is carried out within the Deanery of Business and Computer Sciences which hosts both the Business School and School of Computing. The School of Computing at Liverpool Hope supports a wide range of multidisciplinary, high-quality research work and shares with the rest of the University an emphasis on strategic applicable research, while at the same time encouraging research into the disciplines which underpin computer science. The overall research strategy has been targeted at establishing a strong research culture in a period of rapid university-wide growth. Top priority at the early stage was to recruit dynamic staff with an established research track and profile, achievements and experience of working at places with RAE standing and culture, and a clear potential to add to existing research active staff to form a core area of research strength. As a result of this, new members of staff were attracted from places such as the Systems Engineering department at Brunel University, Research Institute for the Built and Human Environment (BuHu) at University of Salford, and the Computer Science department at University of Liverpool. The recruitment of such staff has been a catalyst in encouraging existing staff to engage in research.

Research Environment, Vitality, Infrastructure, and Management:

The School has created an environment for consolidating research effort and accelerating its growth by establishing two dedicated and technologically advanced laboratories, namely, Intelligent and Distributed Systems (IDS) laboratory and Advanced Technology laboratory; creating PhD bursaries for outstanding postgraduate students with demonstrated research potential; and investing in support for staff research. The assessment period has witnessed a significant increase in collaborative working among staff, with an emphasis on sharing expertise and ideas, for example, co-authored research publications and joint supervision of research degree students. Furthermore, heightened recognition of the research externality has resulted in extensive links within the UK and abroad. These have led to significant enhancement of the international visibility of our research activities, such as the jointly edited special issue of the International Journal of Intelligent Systems Technologies and Applications (Nagar, Tawfik); several years of consultancy work in partnership with staff from the University of Cape Town which is currently expressed as active membership of the Advanced Computer Engineering Special Interest Group (ACE SIG 2007) Conference hosted by the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) in South Africa (Farrimond); and the organisation of special session on Intelligent Systems and Informatics as part of European Modelling Symposium (EMS 2006) held at University College London (UCL) in September 2006 (Nagar, Tawfik).

During the assessment period, the School has developed significant research capacity in a wide spectrum of application areas, including computational modelling, simulation and visualisation, bio-informatics, systems engineering, and education. This has succeeded in creating a platform for demonstrating the vitality of our research across a broad spectrum, for example, research into temporal modelling has led to the development of innovative 3D modelling software for use by school children. This is attracting considerable enthusiasm from partner schools and the Churches Conservation Trust have commissioned models built using it for their website. Time map software developed within the School has been incorporated into the teaching of the History Department. At the same time the diversity of our research interests helped encourage other, teaching-intensive, members of staff to conduct research of publishable quality and enroll for research degrees namely in the areas of Communication Network Visualisation, and Intelligent Tutoring Systems.

In recognition of changing needs and interests, our research activity and structure have been reviewed recently by the University to reflect strategic aims and current developments. The School’s research is currently organised around three main research themes as follows:

  • Intelligent and Distributed Systems (IDS): Research projects under this category are led and coordinated by A. Nagar (Associate Professor) and span the areas of Systems Engineering e.g. State Estimation of large distribution systems such as Water networks (Nagar) and Communication networks (Nagar, Tawfik); Uncertainty Modelling and Analysis (Nagar), Bio-informatics e.g. Long Range Correlation in DNA patters (Nagar), Intelligent Systems e.g. the applications of Artificial Intelligence in computer aided decision support systems for Transportation, Urban planning, and Engineering prototyping (Tawfik, Nagar), Parallel and Distributed Computing (Nagar, Farrimond, Tawfik).
    1. We have established an IDS Laboratory dedicated to supporting hardware and software infrastructure, such as Grid Environment with Condor and Globus toolkit, funded by SRIF grant.
    2. HEIF funding and collaboration with SimCon UK have enabled the School to undertake an ambitious project named APPRASE (Automatic Parallelisation of Programs containing RAndom Scalar Expressions) within the field of High Performance Computing (HPC) (Farrimond). The project aims to facilitate the migration of existing scientific and engineering FORTRAN programs onto HPCs. To help achieve this aim, the project has purchased a HPC machine presently consisting of four nodes based on the Dell PowerEdge 1950 scalable servers. The Servers utilize Intel Xeon 64 bit Quadcore processors running at 1.67 GHz each with a total storage capacity of 584 GB. The parallel environment includes OpenMPI.
  • Temporal Modelling: This research is led by B. Farrimond and focuses on how objects and information such as geographical features, historical events and buildings can be represented visually by computers over time. For example, Hetherington’s research is into the display of built form and its related properties over the World Wide Web and has received funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering for attendance at an International conference. In addition to her modelling research she also publishes in the field of Computer Science education. HEIF funding has enabled a proof of concept modelling tool to be developed into a commercial product with the aid of a full-time project officer.
  • Learning Technologies: Activities related to this theme are concerned with developing effective learning technologies and methods and the research is led by Mark Barrett-Baxendale. This theme has cross Deanery context (Learning and Teaching and Education Deanery) and has been attracting substantial JISC funding. The Learning Technologies Research group also provides a framework through which the computing staff can engage in pedagogical research in the subject; currently six projects have attracted internal University funding.

This organisation facilitates efficient deployment of resources, effective coordination of research, multidisciplinary collaboration and the subsequent transfer of knowledge and expertise.

Day to day management of research activities is coordinated by leaders of the three research themes who belong to the School’s Research Strategy Group, chaired by A Nagar; this ensures a coordinated approach and facilitates the cross fertilisation of ideas and projects. The research leaders are responsible for integrating and mentoring new and upcoming members, encouraging the development of junior researchers, identifying publication targets and putting together applications for funding. Research theme leaders develop the profile of the group by mentoring less experienced staff. Institutionally, research is the responsibility of Research Committee, chaired by the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Academic Development), which reports directly to Senate. All research at Hope is managed in accordance with the Research and Scholarship Plan (2006-10); each Deanery articulates its own strategy within the parameters of this, and the Dean oversees and monitors research within his or her area as part of annual monitoring processes.

Support for Research:

Research time for staff is built into workloads. Wherever possible staff are given the equivalent of one day per week free of other university commitments during term time. Research time is monitored via a Mitigation of Teaching procedure, and through performance reviews. Typically members of staff can apply annually for up to 25% timetable mitigation for research, in order to achieve stated research outputs. Granting of this time is contingent on targets having been achieved in the previous year. Hence, the School ensures that active researchers have dedicated research time. Allocation of time for research active staff in their workloads is an area that the Research Strategy Group has identified as a priority which the School keeps under constant review.

Administration work for research activity is undertaken by the Deanery Office staff; one member of the staff is allocated to the School of Computing, who performs administrative functions such as the convening and minuting of meetings. Other occasional larger tasks, such as the co-ordination of conferences, can be undertaken by arrangement with the Office Manager. Researchers are also provided with a comprehensive computing and information infrastructure which is supported by two full-time technical support staff.

Research funds are available from the School, Deanery and University for travelling to and participating at conferences. In particular, priority is given to staff presenting papers, tutorials or workshops. During the current research assessment period, all members of staff presenting papers at recognised conferences have been supported.

Research Collaboration, Significance and Impact:

Staff members collaborate with universities and research institutes around the world. For example, Nagar undertakes joint research with the University of Madras, (India) where he holds a visiting professorship; Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) where he is working with Prof. V.P. Singh on a UKIERI (UK-India Education and Research Initiative) based collaborative research projects; joint publications with Prof. K.G. Subramanian at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM); and publications with researchers at Brunel University. Tawfik is an associate member of the Future Workspaces Research Centre at the University of Salford where he has co-supervised two PhDs to completion (in the areas of Multi-Objective Site Planning for Construction Management, and Two-Handed Interaction in Virtual Environments) and is currently co-supervising another (in the area of Computer-Aided Urban Planning). Hetherington has developed collaborative research links with the University of Chester and the Acoustics Research Unit at the University of Liverpool and has published on research carried out with staff from both institutions. Farrimond is an Honorary Research Associate on HPC related projects at the University of Cape-Town in South Africa.

Collaborative research and externality, both nationally and internationally, and with industry, is emphasised by encouraging research active staff members to host research visitors, events, and international conferences. The School runs an active research seminar programme, with influx of external speakers, to disseminate breaking research results and to explore opportunities for multi-disciplinary research by inviting internal (PGR students and staff) and external speakers. High-profile speakers have included Professors Terrence Fernando (University of Salford, UK), V.P. Singh (Indian Institute of Technology, India), P. Thangavel (University of Madras, India), Thomas Freytag (University of Cooperative Education, Karlsruhe, Germany), and Mike Inggs (University of Cape-Town).

Particular importance is also attached to ensuring that staff members maintain an international profile through attendance of international conferences and workshops. Participation in, and membership of national and international research networks is also encouraged, to ensure that staff contribute to and remain aware of national, European and international research priorities and trends. Our staff have received national and international recognition through their invited participation on Research Councils (e.g. BBSRC reviewer (Nagar)) and at various levels of key International conferences. Our staff are members of Programme Committees of conferences such as European Modelling Symposium (EMS), Asian Modelling Symposium (AMS 2007), Information Visualisation (IV 2007), and Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualization (CGIV 2008).

The School of Computing co-hosted the International Telework Conference & Workshop jointly with the University of Central Lancashire in August 2005.

The School of Computing is in the process of organising and hosting The European Modelling Symposium (EMS 2008) in September 2008 at Liverpool Hope University. The conference will feature research, advances and trends in a wide range of Computer Science areas such as: Modelling Methodologies, Tools and Techniques; Mathematical and Statistical Techniques; Systems Engineering; Intelligent Systems; Bio-informatics; Computational Immunology; Advanced Human-System Interactions, and Applications in Science and Engineering. The peer-reviewed conference proceedings is intended to be published by the IEEE Computer Society and indexed in IEEEXplore and the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) INSPECT database. This development follows our successful organisation of a special session, on ‘Intelligent Systems and Informatics’, as part of the previous European Modelling Symposium (EMS 2006) held at University College London in September 2006.

The School of Computing will also host the ninth Higher Education Academy Information Computer Sciences Annual Conference. The conference enables UK and international researchers to present their findings into the pedagogical research in Computer Sciences and cognate areas.

The core team of researchers have long term research aspirations and ambitions in terms of achieving excellence in their areas of research interests. The aim during this assessment period has been to make a significant progress by raising the quality of publications to a high standard. Our research results have appeared in various leading outlets such as Journal of Neurocomputing, IEE journal on control systems, Computer Graphics, and Neural Processing Letters. We have also been forming a critical mass of graduate students; currently, there are four registered PGR degree students in the School of Computing.

Specific steps have also been taken to enhance the international dimension of the research culture in the School. We have attracted two adjunct professors (P. Thangavel and K.G. Subramanian) and one visiting professor (Prof. M. Inggs) to build on current areas of research strength in Artificial Neural Networks, Intelligent Systems, Systems Engineering, and High Performance Computing. Central to our recruitment strategy is that the research activities of newly recruited staff must complement current research groups or show strong potential to form new research groups.

Human Resources strategy:

At institutional level, clear strategies are in place for the recruitment, development and promotion of research active staff. The Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Development) has primary responsibility for academic staff recruitment, and all new members of the academic team are expected to be active researchers. A formal designation of ‘recognised researcher’ (through application) entitles staff to additional research leave allowance within workload models above the contracted minimum, priority access to research funds, and managed distribution of duties to free up research time both within and without teaching time. All entrants in this submission benefit from this policy.

Clear promotion routes are available. Staff may apply annually to Senior Lectureships (Grade 8). Biennially, there are open invitations to apply for Associate Professorship or Professorship status (Grades 9 and 10, respectively), for which research excellence is a key criterion. Staff development to support such applications is available. This includes: access to staff development funds to support the development of research for those not yet at the level of recognized researchers; the funding of research activity; the running of research development programmes (e.g. how to write a book proposal; grant applications). Mentoring for more junior researchers is available at institutional as well as local level.

Research activity is formally managed and monitored through annual staff performance reviews. These sessions include review of past activity, the setting of future targets, and the identification of areas for staff development. It is also a key mechanism through which managers can identify upcoming periods of time-pressure and where possible accommodate this in workload models.

Library and IT infrastructure:

The Sheppard-Worlock Library provides access to a wide range of print and electronic information sources including subject specific data-sets, electronic books, journals and researching tools. Subject specific databases for Computing include IEEE Digital library, ACM Digital library, Science Direct, and Web of Knowledge citation searching. Electronic books are available via NetLibrary and electronic journals via JSTOR and Swetswise. Global books in print and Ulrichsweb allow researchers to identify books and journals. The University also subscribes to PapersInvited a tool to help researchers identify conferences taking place in their areas of research. Staff and research students have access and borrowing rights at other regional libraries through the Sconul Access scheme (e.g. The University of Liverpool; the John Rylands Library, Manchester), and funding is available for visits to specialist collections. The Deanery has Subject Librarians who can provide one to one support to staff and students.

Postgraduate Research:

Postgraduate research degrees have been awarded through the University of Liverpool; Liverpool Hope has now applied for Research Degree Awarding Powers (RDAP). In recent years significant changes have taken place at Liverpool Hope which have transformed the management of postgraduate research at the University. These changes have strengthened the institutional structures for supporting postgraduate students, and have given us ownership over our postgraduate provision. This has enabled postgraduate support and provision to be more fully and coherently integrated into the research structure and strategy of the School, something that is reflected in the increased number of research students currently registered for doctoral research in recent years. A monitoring and reporting system enables research students and supervisors to record the results of tutorial meetings, submit annual progress reports, and record degree progression and status. Participation in a series of research-training seminars, skills workshops, and career planning sessions are required of postgraduate researchers. The Postgraduate Research Centre in the Alexander Jones Building (AJB) offers computing, study resources and meeting spaces for research students.

At the School of Computing level, we run a taught MSc in Computer Science, in which t he research dissertation component offers apprenticeship experience for those wishing to pursue postgraduate research.

Research Strategy and Sustainability:

The researchers belonging to the School continue to set for themselves the objective of prosecuting both fundamental and applied research at the forefront of technological development as well as responsiveness to national and international initiatives. This strategy will continue to be adopted and developed. It is envisaged that focusing research activities on themes reflecting national and international priorities will lead to significant growth in our already fruitful activity in Systems Engineering, Intelligent Systems, and Modelling.

Our strategic plan within the School of Computing at Liverpool Hope is to continue the policy of developing strength in depth, with emphasis on multidisciplinarity, building upon existing themes and diversifying in a carefully controlled fashion, and ultimately achieving international excellence in aspects of our portfolio. We will continue to grow research activity through our staff development procedures, by emphasising and encouraging synergy, and by attracting active researchers in relevant areas. A conscious effort will continue to be made to ensure relevance and timeliness, while continuing to anchor the research firmly in the process of wealth creation through consultancy and technology transfer activities, funding bids, and enterprise activities.

Within the framework of this strategy, the school of Computing will pursue a set of well-identified goals over the next five years. In particular:

  • Respond to the challenges presented by the explosive growth of ‘e-science’, mobile communications, and embedded systems areas.
  • Focus on exploiting our core skills in Systems Engineering and Modelling and Simulation areas by prosecuting both fundamental research and applications as diverse as State Estimation for Communication Systems, Bio-informatics, and Embedded Systems.
  • Further raise the quality of publications to higher standards and outlets.
  • Carry out commercial exploitation and patency of the impact of our research findings. Secure research funding.
  • Increase the critical mass of graduate students and successful research degrees.
  • Consolidate and improved our research activities, focussing on our strengths both at national and international levels Accomplish this by adopting well focussed objectives and research themes; encouraging multi and inter-disciplinary research; and attracting active researchers in relevant areas.
  • Strengthen our strategic research policies, notably: by introducing a monitoring procedure which reports regularly on research progress of each research active staff against well defined and tangible targets (in terms of publications, graduate students and research income); and by extending the research-leave scheme to further encourage and benefit members of staff.

Evidence of esteem:

As an evidence of esteem staff members have been participating in peer-review, advisory and consultancy roles, delivering conference keynote lectures, establishing international links and networks, and organising international conference sessions. Some members of staff serve on conference programme committees and undertake PhD external examiner roles.

The twelve esteem indicators (maximum number allowed, as per the guidelines of the F23 UoA, for staff submitted for assessment by the School of Computing at Liverpool Hope) are as follows:

B. Farrimond:

  1. Appointed Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in 2006 .
  2. Serves as Committee member of the Association of History and Computing.

R. Hethrington:

  1. Member of the Programme Committee for the International Conference on Information Visualization (IV07 and IV08), International Conference on Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualization (CGIV08).

A.K. Nagar:

  1. Visiting professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Madras, Chennai, India; (Duration: December 2006 to December 2008).
  2. Member of Editorial Board of the International Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Soft Computing (Since August 2007), Journal of Universal Computer Science (Since May 2005), and the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (Since September 2005).
  3. Expert reviewer for BBSRC grants peer-review committee for Bioinformatics Units Assessment Panel (Since 2006).

K.G. Subramanian:

  1. Session Chair and Organiser, The Second International Colloquium on Theoretical Aspects of Computing , 17 - 21 October 2005 , Hanoi, Vietnam
  2. Served as one of the Editors of the volume: “Formal Models, Languages and Applications”, Series in Machine Perception and Artificial Intelligence Vol.66, 2006, World Scientific. (Co-editors: K. Rangarajan (Madras Christian College, India) & Madhavan Mukund (Chennai Mathematical Institute, India)).

H. Tawfik:

  1. Co- Guest Editor (with A.K. Nagar) for the special issue of International Journal of Intelligent Systems Technology and Applications. Special issue entitled: Advances in Intelligent Systems for Applied Simulation and Prototyping; May 2006; Volume to appear in early 2008.
  2. Session Chair and Organiser: session entitled: Emerging Trends and Technologies for Collaborative Work; International Telework Conference & Workshop August 2005; and session entitled: Intelligent Systems and Informatics; September 2006; European Modelling Symposium (EMS 2006).

P. Thangavel:

  1. Member of Editorial Board of Information: an International Journal, since 2003, published by International Information Institute, Hosei University, Tokyo, Japan.
  2. Visiting Scientist on the invited by Prof. P.J. Plath, University of Bremen, Germany, to work on ‘Controlling of Chaotic Micro Reactors’ project; April – July 2001.