The Adaptation and Renewal Team (ART) was formed early in 2020 to shape the University’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As thoughts turn to September and the 2021/22 academic year ahead Barry Neilson, Director of Strategic Change, explains how the University’s approach will develop.
In December 2020 the University Executive approved a recommendation to stand down the Adaptation and Renewal Team. This is not because we think the response to the pandemic is over but to revert key decision making to existing established mechanisms.
In this new miniseries, we celebrate the recent appointment of 40 of the University’s most promising early career researchers as Chancellor’s Fellows. This issue, we’re taking the opportunity to meet a few of the Fellows from the College of Science & Engineering.
Dr Andrew Schurer, Dr Joanna Sadler and Dr Lucia Bandiera talk about what inspired their work, the research community at Edinburgh and what the Chancellor’s Fellowship means to them.
There’s a long weekend ahead for all staff thanks to the University’s respite days on Good Friday and Easter Monday. This is expected to coincide with the transition from the current Stay at Home order to Stay Local on 2 April, giving everyone a little more freedom to move around while remaining within their own local authority area.
If you’re hoping to go for a change of scenery and somewhere a little different to relax, exercise, or just get a breath of fresh air, bulletin has you covered. We asked a handful of contributors to suggest their favourite, perhaps lesser known but no less highly recommended, outdoor spots and greenspaces.
Improving biodiversity is a key part of the University’s commitment to social responsibility and sustainability in the Strategy 2030. The Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) and Estates Landscaping teams team are leading on a host of projects to protect and improve the biodiversity around Edinburgh.
One such project is the Hedgehog Friendly campus which has attracted staff and students alike. This February, the University was awarded a silver accreditation as a Hedgehog Friendly Campus. The project also helped to secure the Campus of the Future Award at the annual Green Gown Awards in recognition of its innovative work to improve biodiversity and climate adaptation, both on its campuses and in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council. Here the SRS team share a bit more about the project.
In this series, Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, chats to members of our community to find out more about them. Each fortnight she’ll be asking, what is the one regret that has shaped their past, and what is their one hope for the future.
This week Mona’s guest is Tommy J Curry, Professor of Philosophy and Personal Chair of Africana Philosophy and Black Male Studies.
Social Responsibility and Sustainability’s annual Sustainability Awards celebration takes place on 1 April. The event will celebrate and recognise the efforts of staff and students who have made a positive difference in the university community, in their local communities or globally in a socially responsible or sustainable way.
The Hybrid Teaching Exchange is where colleagues can share work in progress, learning, insights, ideas, plans and resources to support hybrid teaching. The project team’s March digest is aimed at addressing the University community’s current challenges and concerns and provides links to advice and support for staff.
Given the University’s diverse research excellence, Senior Vice Principal Professor Jonathan Seckl explores how the use of broad themes can help shape the narrative around the impact of our work.
The University of Edinburgh is renowned globally for the exceptional quality of our research. We were ranked fourth in the UK for research power in the last REF, behind Oxford, Cambridge and UCL, but ahead of Imperial and Kings College London, splitting the so-called ‘golden triangle’ (“golden quadrangle” with Edinburgh at the apex to my mind). We are in the top 20 universities in the world according to the 2021 QS rankings, which gives considerable weight to research reputation.
In recent decades our discoveries and insights in such diverse fields as particle physics, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, genetics/genomics, artificial intelligence, sustainability, linguistics, sociology and political science have all made a major impact on the world. We have educated or employed colleagues who have won seven Nobel prizes since 2013.
We are excellent at many things, but, given our broad research base, how do we capture and distil this excellence into a coherent narrative? Put simply, in the coming decades, what do we want the University’s research to be known for?
This is the challenge that I and other colleagues have been working on and has led to the creation of five overarching research and innovation themes. All are underpinned by our excellence and core capability in data-driven innovation. They are designed to celebrate our existing strengths, promote inter-disciplinarity and collaboration and articulate our future ambitions.
The themes are:
Future health and care
One health and food security
Societal and planetary sustainability
Culture and creative economies
Living and working digitally
In many ways, the themes coalesced naturally around our research strategy from 2019 and our current activity. They are facilitated by our five data-driven innovation DDI hubs, funded though the City Region Deal, and are flexible enough to operate across our Colleges and disciplines. They also capture how the UN Sustainable Development Goals play out in a Scottish context.
Let me briefly expand upon each of these themes.
The future of health and care
What are the next treatments, medical breakthroughs or approaches to care that will transform how we maximise wellbeing and look after the ill and vulnerable? This theme captures our pioneering work in areas such as MND, dementia, nursing, reproductive health, regenerative medicine, medical informatics and many others, including the crucial interfaces between medicine, the sciences, social sciences and the arts. A key project is the Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC), launched with Legal & General, which aims to transform the way care in later life is conceived, designed and delivered.
One Health and Food Security
One Health articulates and examines the interrelated nature of human, animal and ecosystem health. The inception of SARS-Cov-2, its leap from animals to humans, the regularity with which this has occurred and will occur in the future, has made this even more pressing. This theme encompasses issues such as animal and human health surveillance, emerging infections, food security, over-grazing, pollution, market economies, waste management, policy and politics. The Easter Bush Agritech Hub, which was announced earlier this month, our burgeoning capabilities in space and satellite data, and the new UK supercomputer (ARCHER2) will play a major role in this theme.
Social and Planetary Sustainability
How can societies be more peaceful, just and equitable? How can we ensure life on our planet is thriving several generations from now? This theme captures our work in answering those questions. It includes areas such as sustainable urban planning and engineering projects, research into renewables, and insights into what makes strong, accessible systems of justice and governance. The Edinburgh Earth Initiative and Energy@Ed are fine examples of how we are already beginning to coordinate our approaches.
Culture and Creative Economies
We are building on fantastic work being done in gaming, music, the visual arts, film, and graphic design. This theme also includes areas such as tourism, festivals, the exploration of the cultural heritage of Scotland and other countries. A fine example is Creative Informatics, leveraged through a major AHRC grant. Traveltech for Scotland is another great example, which is using data to boost the beleaguered sector. Both will soon be housed in the exceptional environment of our Edinburgh Futures Institute.
Living and Working Digitally
Data and digital technologies are changing every part of life. From how we do everyday things such as the weekly shop or listening to music to large scale applications in manufacturing, office work, AI and robotics. This theme captures the research that is shaping this future and is helping us to understand its implications, whilst building public trust enabled by the Baillie Gifford award to the Centre for Technomoral Futures. The recent UKRI-funded Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence (GOFCoE),is another example. It is employing financial data to deliver social and economic benefit to all corners of the globe.
What do these themes mean for you as a researcher in the University? I hope you’ll see your own work and expertise within them. I also think that these areas showcase the biggest opportunities for attracting research grant funding and partnerships with industry.
A new part of the University website will be launched soon that will showcase research based on these themes. This will give greater visibility to and build a coherent narrative for our collective strengths.
Of course, not all our research will fit neatly into these themes. That is fine. Research is the quintessential ‘bottom-up’ activity. It depends on you and your brilliant ideas. But increasingly we are asked how applications for funding fit the institutional strategy. I hope that with these exciting, relevant and broadly drawn aims, most of us can say that our creative ideas are aligned to such a strategy.
The past year has shown that we live in exceptionally challenging times. But it has also reinforced, more than ever, the value and the power of our research. And we have shown, often working together, that we contribute to solutions to the most challenging issues of our times.
These research themes, underpinned by DDI, will help us tell that story more clearly, attract more partnerships and funding and, ultimately, make more of a difference in the world.
In this new miniseries, we celebrate the recent appointment of 40 of the University’s most promising early career researchers as Chancellor’s Fellows. This issue, we’re taking the opportunity to meet a few of the Fellows from the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.
Dr Ailith Ewing, Dr Adrian Muwonge and Dr Lida Zoupi talk about the paths they followed into research, the support they’ve received here and what the Chancellor’s Fellowship means to them.
From installing a solar farm to investing in 41 community projects, the University took some great strides toward becoming more socially responsible and sustainable in 2019/20.
This overview of 10 positive actions taken by the University and its community looks at key improvements made to improve social and civic responsibility on campus, across the city, and in collaboration with other organisations. It is based on a longer round-up from Social Responsibility and Sustainability and you can also read the University’s full Social and Civic Responsibility Report 2019-20 to find out more.
Easter Bush solar farm. Neil Hanna Photography.
1. We met our 2025 carbon emissions targets and are on track to become carbon neutral by 2040
The University has met both its 2025 carbon emission targets five years early. To date, we have reduced our carbon emissions by 15 per cent since 2007/08. We have also completed 44 carbon and energy efficiency projects generating £333,000 in cost savings and a reduction of 1,091 tonnes CO₂e.
2. We created a solar farm
Almost 5,000 ground-mounted solar panels have been installed at the Easter Bush campus. They will provide 15 per cent of electricity consumed at the campus and save an estimated £200,000 a year. The development includes a living laboratory for solar PV research.
3. 50 per cent of meal options in our outlets continue to be veggie or plant-based
The University’s Good Food Policy was published, setting out commitments to increase the vegetarian and plant-based options we offer and ensure that no edible food is wasted. We also joined the Peas Please initiative which aims to make it easier for everyone to eat more veg.
4. We were named the best University in the UK for student cyclists
Student accommodation site Mystudenthalls.com ranked UK universities using a range of measures. We’ve added more than 1,000 cycle parking spaces across our campuses and are a partner in Just Eat Cycles – the City of Edinburgh’s bike hire scheme. We support and encourage cycling by offering training, maintenance courses, a cycle to work scheme, Doctor Bike sessions and discounts in local bike shops.
5. We invested in 41 local Community Projects
The Community Grants Scheme supported 41 community projects with small grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to £5,000, targeting those most severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in Edinburgh and the surrounding area. Since 2017, the University has provided more than £300,000 of grant support to 79 projects.
6. We donated more than 500 PCs and iPads to the local community
The University’s PC Reuse Project aims to extend the useful life of our old IT equipment rather than recycling it. A total of 529 items were donated to community partners, providing computers and laptops to people in need. Working with the City of Edinburgh Council, computers were donated to help students across the city whose learning had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and who did not previously have access to a computer at home.
7. More than 500 staff and students became Sustainability Champions
Interest from the staff and student community in sustainability continues to grow with more than 500 people signing up to the Sustainability Champions Network. Across the University, 40 offices and 19 laboratories were accredited through the Sustainability Awards.
8. We widened access to the University and improved Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
We met our Commission for Widening Access targets three years ahead of schedule. The University recruits 10 per cent of student intake from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland. We also won £600,000 of funding to enable 35 students from low income countries to study for a part-time online masters.
The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee was established and EDI principles are at the heart of our values and strategic priorities. The recommendations of the Thematic Review of Support for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Students are being taken forward with the new Race Equality & Anti-Racist subcommittee and its associated action plan.
9. We made positive investments for the climate and society
We became a founding member of a Responsible Investment Network within higher education that will explore how universities can invest ethically. We also committed to invest up to £8million in social investments for the benefit of society – thematic priorities address issues related to poverty, homelessness, access to education and youth employment.
10. We worked in partnership for sustainable development locally and globally
The University is committed to engaging critically with and contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We conduct world-leading research addressing climate change and sustainability issues, responding with multidisciplinary and high-impact research across a range of disciplines. This was recognised with fourth place, out of 806 institutions globally, in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for our significant contributions towards partnership for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Building on recent growth in commercialisation activity in the therapeutics field, Edinburgh Innovations and the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine have launched their Bench to Bedside campaign.
When you have notched up a record year and the graphs are continuing to curl steeper, what next? The answer for Edinburgh Innovations (EI) and the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine is to launch a campaign to build on that momentum.
Commercialisation of the College’s therapeutics expertise has reached new heights amid a series of successful company launches, supported by substantial investors, and an impressive roster of industry collaborations.
This month’s launch of the Bench to Bedside campaign will further boost industry engagement and inspire more research staff and students to commercialise their work.
The campaign is the first in EI’s Discovery Series, which will span 2021 and reach out to business by highlighting the University’s track record, facilities and expertise. It will also help more staff and students discover the benefits of maximising the impact of their work through commercialisation.
“We have a strong track record of engaging with industry to find solutions to unmet clinical needs,” says Professor Stuart Forbes, Dean of Research at the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.
Professor Stuart Forbes
“This new campaign will highlight that, from bench to bedside, the University of Edinburgh has the expertise, track record and facilities to help our partners deliver impact.”
The income generated for the University from the College’s translational and industrial funding awards more than doubled in 2019/20 and has already set a new record in the first seven months of the current year.
And over the past 18 months, Edinburgh Innovations has helped launch five therapeutic discovery companies that have raised substantial investment.
Recent spinout successes include Resolution Therapeutics, launched with an investment of £26.6 million from Syncona, to develop macrophage cell therapies to repair organ damage – including end-stage chronic liver disease.
Professor Forbes is a joint founder of the company, having worked with his research team at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine for a decade on the role of macrophages in organ repair, with funding from the Medical Research Council.
Syncona has been collaborating with Professor Forbes’ team since 2018, developing processes to engineer macrophage cell therapy.
Fellow founder John Campbell is Director of Tissues, Cells and Advanced Therapeutics at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) and Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh. The SNBTS is part of the collaborative effort, working to optimise the manufacturing process and produce engineered macrophages for clinical use.
Dr George Baxter, Edinburgh Innovations CEO, says: “The way the parties have worked together to pursue their mutual aim is an excellent example of academic research translating into the chance to transform lives.”
Dr George Baxter
Meanwhile, researchers at the University’s Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences are working with New York-based Neurogene to develop next-generation gene therapies.
Supported by EI, the team led by Dr Stuart Cobb has signed a multi-year agreement to advance development of multiple platform approaches to improve on existing gene therapy technologies.
Neurogene will provide funding to Dr Cobb’s laboratory in exchange for the right to license intellectual property. Neurogene will be responsible for late stage preclinical and all clinical development of any products generated under the collaboration.
Dr Cobb, Simons Fellow and Reader in Neuroscience at the Patrick Wild Centre and Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, has been working with Neurogene since 2018 and serves as the company’s Chief Scientific Officer.
Dr Cobb says: “Gene therapy is a very promising yet complex development area, and we are privileged to help address the unmet needs that exist within rare neurological diseases.”
EI has a dedicated Business Development team for the College, led by Dr Andrea Taylor – a driving force behind the current upward trajectory who is determined to build the momentum even further.
Dr Andrea Taylor
She cites the recent receipt of a £2.4 million Wellcome Trust Institutional Translational Partnership Award (iTPA) as typifying the direction of travel. The team’s previous, smaller, iTPA scheme ran for three years and brought an increase of 60 per cent in the College’s early career researchers engaging with commercialisation, including a disproportionate rise among women.
Dr Taylor says: “The iTPA alone has had a major impact on the culture across biomedical sciences, with a new pipeline of 80 projects currently live. We have created a translational hub which has built an engaged translational community of 300 members; we want to reach 1,000 in the next three years.
“There is no better way for researchers to have impact in the real world than to work with business. It’s an exciting time to join our growing community of collaborators and make ideas work for a better world.”
The Bench to Bedside campaign comprises a series of EI-hosted events, outreach activities including presence at external events, and communications and marketing activities. Key academics will act as champions to promote industry engagement and commercialisation, including Professors Neil Carragher, Shareen Forbes and Jonathan Fallowfield.
There will be news stories announcing company launches and collaborative research projects in coming weeks, case studies for use online, in newsletters and in marketing materials, and a takeover of the EI website to highlight the campaign.
Among the planned events is ‘Seeing Value in Novelty’ on 31 March. This one-hour session, delivered by venture capital company Epidarex Capital, will show how it’s possible to use investor expertise and finance while continuing to develop your career as an academic researcher.
Professor Jeffrey Pollard and Dr Luca Cassetta, co-founders of Macomics, will share their story on successfully managing the best of both worlds.
The event will also be an opportunity to learn more about EI and will be of particular interest to PhD students, early career researchers, postdoctoral fellows and principal investigators in the field of life sciences.
In this series, Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, chats to members of our community to find out more about them. Each fortnight she’ll be asking, what is the one regret that has shaped their past, and what is their one hope for the future.
Mona Siddiqui: My guest this week is Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh Peter Mathieson. Peter – thank you so much for joining me.
Peter Mathieson: My pleasure Mona. Good to talk to you.
MS: First of all, Peter, it’s coming up to about three years since you became Principal of the University. How have you found the experience, aside from the Covid issues?
PM: I’ve completed three years now and I am into my fourth year and that in itself seems amazing to me. I’ve found it a very enriching and enchanting experience so far. I think Edinburgh is a fabulous city. As you probably know, it’s the birthplace of my father so for me there is a sentimentality to being in Edinburgh. The University is a wonderful organisation full of talented people and with a very significant place in the city, in Scotland and in the wider world so I feel privileged to have been appointed as the Principal. There has been a sense that it has been very difficult to measure progress, not least because of the pandemic but also there are a number of things that I think need attention at the University of Edinburgh. Clearly, the one that I made a lot of play on in terms of what I thought I could contribute to the role was around student satisfaction and indeed staff satisfaction. Although we’ve started lots of work to address both of those things there has been a sense that for the last year now all of those objectives have had to be seen in the light of the pandemic so it has been an enormous distraction from the original plans. On the other hand, there is a job to be done in terms of navigating the University through the pandemic and my senior team and I have done our best to deliver that.
MS: You trained as a nephrologist. For the sake of our audience can you explain briefly what a nephrologist does?
PM: It’s a subspecialty of medicine. The organ system that I chose to specialise in was the kidneys. Nephrology means the study of the kidneys and patients with kidney disease can be treated with dialysis or with transplants or sometimes can be treated with drugs to try and avoid the need for dialysis or transplants. My professional career, in terms of the clinical work, was devoted to looking after people with kidney disease either on dialysis or with transplants or in my case, very often, prior to reaching that stage trying to treat the disease so that they never need dialysis. My research programme, which I conducted alongside my clinical work for 19 years, was focused on understanding normal kidney physiology and how it goes wrong in disease and how drugs work to try and correct that. There was a close alignment between my research area and my clinical work.
MS: Do you still get to do any clinical work?
PM: No, I don’t and I miss it. I had to reduce my clinical work when I took on a senior role in Bristol but I did still manage to do some clinical work on a regular basis there. When I went to Hong Kong I was not able to do clinical work, largely for reasons of professional registration. I’ve not done any active clinical work for the last seven years now. I could in theory still do it in Edinburgh because I could reawaken my registration to practice but I haven’t done so because I don’t like the idea of not doing something properly. I just wouldn’t have time to give it the attention that it would need so the only exposure I have to renal medicine, to kidney medicine, now is through some contact with my research group and doing some teaching here in Edinburgh. I teach the medical students on the subjects which have interested me in research terms over the last 20 years and I did that most recently just last week and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
MS: You’ve worked in various institutions of higher education in your career. In your view, do British universities still offer value for money in our highly competitive global market?
PM: I think the respect that British universities are held in by the rest of the world is evident from a number of pieces of data, not least the demand for places from international students who wish to come here and the desirability of British universities, including places like Edinburgh, as partners in research or educational agreements with international universities. I think there is lots of evidence that we still offer a great deal of attraction. Value for money is a bit subjective. If you look at the Scottish situation, you’ve got students that may be doing the same course that have very different tuition fee levels applied depending on where they come from or where they studied their school work. What’s incumbent upon places like Edinburgh is to provide the best quality education and student experience that we can, irrespective of which fee category people are in. Therefore, the value for money question might be quite different whether you are an international student or a home student but the product should be the same, the quality of the experiences people can expect should be the same.
MS: If there’s one message you could give to both staff and students at the University in these challenging times, what would that be?
PM: My message would be thank you for the extraordinary efforts that you have all made in these very difficult circumstances. The senior team, including me, are all doing their best to listen and to respond. We’ve got a complicated set of requirements from governments and from public health authorities to be guided by. We also want to listen to students and staff and alumni and friends of the University. We recognise these are really challenging times for everybody and we are doing our best to make sure that we continue to provide the best possible experience for everyone associated with the University. It has not been easy for anybody but I do have the strong sense that people generally want the same thing – we want to be able to live up to our mission and our vision and to deliver the best possible experience that we can. Everyone is just working hard to try and achieve that, so my overwhelming message is thank you and one of appreciation that the circumstances that everyone has been working under in the last year or so have been extraordinary and very varied for different people. Everyone has their own challenges to face.
MS: Is there anything in your recent or distant past, either in your personal or professional career that you have regretted?
PM: Regret for me right now is the sense that I know the University of Edinburgh can be such a fantastic, transformational place for people, particularly for students but also for staff and for society, and we have been inhibited from providing what we would wish to provide by this extraordinary set of external events. Although we have done our best and I think there are a lot of things that we have got right, there are some things that we have got wrong and clearly the fact that we have been driven by external events beyond our control has made life very difficult. I regret the fact that the current cohort of students and many of our staff have had a really difficult period of time in their lives and I hope that in the longer term we can make that up to them and as situations improve we can get away from the restrictions that currently affect our ability to deliver.
MS: Maybe you’ve already answered it but moving forward and thinking of the future, what’s the one hope that you carry forward?
PM: My hope I would make a personal one but it also applies I think to everybody on the planet. My hope would be that I can see more of my family than I have been able to in the last few months. I have a grandson who was born the day before the first lockdown in March last year and I have hardly seen him so I have missed out on nine or 10 months of his development. My hope would be that I can see a bit more of him and the rest of the family in the months and years to come and I have the same hope for everybody associated with the University. I hope they can get a bit more opportunity to spend time with the people that they wish to spend time with and not be so restricted by the circumstances as we have been since the early part of last year.
The first Una Europa staff week took place online in March, bringing together colleagues from eight leading European research universities, in a single Una community, for the first time.
Participants attended plenary sessions to learn more about Una Europa and the 1Europe Project. Other sessions were aimed specifically at colleagues involved in university libraries, and in alumni, international office and communications teams.
Una Europa is a unique alliance comprising Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Freie Universität Berlin, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, University of Bologna, University of Helsinki, Jagiellonian University, KU Leuven and the University of Edinburgh, which joined in 2019.
Members have a combined staff and student community of almost half a million people and aim to draw on their collective strengths to create a truly European inter-university environment.
The alliance has already successfully applied for funding for the 1Europe Project, which will focus efforts on the four areas of sustainability, data science and Artificial Intelligence, cultural heritage, and European studies. Within these areas, planned activities include joint programmes and increased mobility amongst member universities. The Project also considers what the European university of the future might look like.
Panel discussion, Una Europa staff week.
Jeremy Upton, Director of Library & University Collections, helped coordinate library-focused sessions and chaired breakout discussions. He said: “The Library is strongly committed to supporting the University’s international partnerships.
“The Una Europa sessions had a strong sense of what we are trying to achieve and what we are supporting. Participants from all the institutions engaged with the sessions and very quickly began to talk and explore shared interests. There was a feeling of enthusiasm. Una Europa provides a framework which supports opportunities for staff to learn from colleagues in other institutions. We have the potential to develop shared training where we discover common needs and can work together on shared challenges focused on the concept of the European university.”
Natalie Fergusson, Global Alumni Manager in Development and Alumni, found the week a great way to get a better understanding of the Una Europa initiative: “Alumni relations was a core topic during the event with a dedicated working group. I was pleased to have the opportunity to represent alumni relations at Edinburgh as we look to build a network among the alliance’s member universities.”
“It was an interesting and informative few days,” Natalie continues. “It was great to connect with professionals from other institutions, hearing about their programmes and sharing ideas. The nature of my role means I already work to engage our European alumni in the life and work of the University but this experience expanded my knowledge and understanding of other important areas and projects, and how they contribute to the University’s relationship with Europe.”