Ulster University Supercharges Research and Innovation with Launch of New Five Year Strategy

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Ulster University has today unveiled a brand new Research and Innovation strategy which aims to focus its contribution to global challenges such as climate change, inequality and social deprivation and ensure its research aligns to societal needs – both locally, here on the Island of Ireland and on a global scale.

Five new strategic research themes have been established to enable the University to carry out world-class research that has a transformative impact on societies: challenging inequality and division; building the sustainable world; accelerating data futures; transforming health; and inspiring creativity and innovation.

As well as setting out these new research themes, the new strategy aims to focus on the people behind the research: to develop the researchers and research community, increasing the excellence, intensity and value of research and impact.

It also lays out plans to develop and promote an open, diverse, supportive and sustainable research culture, which fosters increased collaboration between researchers and industry or sectoral partners. It promises to invest in partnerships and on infrastructure to ensure research can thrive.

This Research Strategy builds on the University’s already significant research success – it is in the 10% of UK universities for research impact, 97% of its research has been deemed as having ‘outstanding or very considerable impacts in reach and significance’ and 80% of its research outputs have been deemed ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ (Research Excellence Framework 2021).

Ulster University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Bartholomew said: “Linking to The University Strategy: People, Place and Partnership; the Research Strategy seeks to unlock the University’s collective potential to deliver Sustainable Futures for All. Research and innovation remain at the heart of the strategic direction of the University, founded on the core values: Collaboration, Enhancing Potential, Inclusion and Integrity. 

“Our last research strategy from 2017-22 delivered unprecedented growth in our research and innovation performance. Building on this work and the University’s highest ever performance in the Research Excellence Framework 2021, we are excited to continue to advance our vision for research excellence.”

Professor Liam Maguire, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research added: “People are at the heart of this University, so the strategy is focused on the development of Ulster University’s research community and culture, providing a supportive environment for all our researchers and investing in the infrastructure to optimise research. 

“Co-developed with over 300 staff and post PhD researchers at Ulster University, our strategy focuses on four strategic research goals: to conduct world-class research that has a transformative impact on societies locally and globally, to develop our researchers and our research community, increasing the excellence, intensity and value of our research and impact; to develop and promote an open, diverse, supportive and sustainable research culture, promoting cooperation and collaboration between researchers and partners; and to place research and innovation at the heart of Ulster’s strategic direction, investing in partnerships and the infrastructure upon which research can thrive.”

Tim Brundle, Director of Research and Impact at Ulster University spoke of the research community of the future that the new strategy will enable: “We are committed to developing the very best and most sustainable research culture, fostering cooperation and collaboration between researchers and our partners and nurturing interdisciplinary between research groups.

“Our desired research environment will be one in which people and ideas move freely, co-creating innovation and opportunity, shortening the distance between insight and value creation in society. This approach will be essential to Ulster’s programme of City and Growth Deals, in our response to the climate crisis and to global grand challenges. 

“We are building a research and innovation environment that is open and supportive of our researchers, our partnerships and our focus on transformative impact locally and globally.”

About the five strategic research themes:

Challenging inequality and division: Ulster’s multi-disciplinary research will help shape our world for the better by informing social, economic and political thinking and decision-making to create an equal, cohesive, safe and sustainable society. One such example includes the ‘Every Voice Matters! Violence Against Women in Northern Ireland’ report from Ulster University which uncovered eye-watering levels of violence against women in NI and was commissioned by The Executive Office and launched by the Head of the Civil Service, Jayne Brady. This report was commissioned to inform an important strategy: the ‘End Violence Against Women and Girls’ strategy, which is currently out to consultation.

Building the sustainable world: The University’s research-led approach to understanding the environment will enable us to inform colleagues, communities, policy-makers and businesses on ways we can make the best use of our resources and tackle major societal challenges such as climate change, energy, food and water security; social inclusion and deprivation. We will research and develop new technologies and solutions to build the sustainable world. We’re already contributing to major Governmental projects: we are part of a consortium creating a new £21.3million national research hub to decarbonise the UK’s maritime sector, we are part of another group which is shaping eco-friendly waste management culture through design and we have just mapped, for the very first time, changes to Northern Ireland’s coastline over 190 years as a result of coastal erosion and advancement. This work will shape policy and decision making for sustainable coastal and waste management and for sectoral decarbonisation.

Accelerating data futures: Technological innovation is revolutionising the ways in which societies function at all levels with digital prediction and data insights transforming decision-making in all sectors, for example, in food, health, art & heritage, industry, energy and finance. We are already leading major AI research projects as part of a network established by the Alan Turing Institute to build and share knowledge around digital twin research, we hosted a major AI summit where we and international experts explored the future of AI for the education sector and we partner with KAINOS, hosting an AI Research Centre on our Belfast campus.

Transforming health: Ulster’s multidisciplinary researchers have a combined aim of improving lives on a global scale as well as informing major policy changes. They are making new discoveries and using new innovative materials, methods and technologies to provide cutting-edge solutions to make a real-world impact on health in the wider context of communities and society. For example, researchers are working to improve dementia diagnosis and on novel treatments for Alzheimer’s and on drug-gene testing to alleviate healthcare waiting times, through personalised medicine. There are also research projects into multiple other long-term conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, blood cancers, vision, neurodegenerative disorders and arthritis.

Inspiring creativity and innovation: The University’s creative and artistic research spans a variety of disciplines and stretches beyond time-honoured research methods, incorporating practice-based research and the digital tools which enable us to better understand and adapt to our rapidly changing environment. Studio Ulster is one such example: a large-scale virtual production campus at Belfast Harbour Studios which will host a state-of-the-art research and development facility to help drive the next generation of visual effects technologies that will revolutionise the UK’s film, TV and performing arts industries.

To find out more, visit: ulster.ac.uk/research/strategy

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