The GW4 Alliance: open, collaborative, resourceful

The GW4 Alliance: open, collaborative, resourceful
GW4 Alliance

GW4 Alliance

 Report by GW4 Alliance

Established in 2013, the GW4 Alliance combines the intellectual capacity and physical resources of the four leading research-intensive universities in the South West of England and Wales: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, and Exeter.

Our interdisciplinary research features a number of academics from across GW4, allowing us to work together to enhance the reach and significance of our research. By working together we also use our facilities more efficiently, and are able to simulate growth in the region through a series of strategic collaborations with industry, governments, the arts, and civil society.

The GW4 universities employ over 8,000 academic staff members, who in turn support over 22,000 postgraduate taught and research students, have a combined turnover well in excess of £1 billion, and £296 million in research grants and contracts income.

Strength and excellence in doctoral training

Thanks to the collaborative strength of GW4, we have already succeeded in attracting significant funding to train postgraduate researchers. We host 23 Research Council UK doctoral training programmes and are involved in a further eight hosted by other universities. We also train the next generation of environmental scientists through the largest National Environment Research Council (NERC) funded doctoral training partnership in the UK, the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership, with almost 200 studentships.

Our partnership with NERC combines GW4 with six leading research organisations: the British Geological Survey, the British Antarctic Survey, the Natural History Museum, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and the Met Office. The doctoral training programme represents an investment of some £11.8 million by NERC and an additional £3.4 million by GW4, resulting in a £15 million programme of collaborative training across disciplines and sectors.

Our success in doctoral training extends beyond environmental science, with GW4 hosting the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Informatics: Science and Engineering (WISE). This centre-of-excellence acts as a hub for international and industrial collaborations, training scientists and engineers with the relevant skills, knowledge, and professional attributes to succeed in industry and academia.

Research areas of the WISE centre for doctoral training include water informatics, and water science and engineering. Continuing GW4’s support for interdisciplinary research, WISE also links in with disciplines that would not typically be thought of in relation to sustainable water management, such as statistics, social sciences, geography, psychology, and economics. By drawing upon our individual institutional strengths and our links with global companies such as Arup Group, Toshiba Research Europe, and IBM, we are able to offer our students the opportunity to undertake a three month research-visit in industryrelevant research or with academics from world-leading institutions.

We have also benefitted from a major investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, receiving £8 million to fund 114 PhD studentships over five years, and are working with the world-renowned agricultural institute Rothamstead Research to provide specialised training that focuses on two high-priority areas: ‘Agriculture and Food Security’ and ‘World-Class Underpinning Biosciences’.

Funding for this new doctoral training programme, South West Bioscience, reflects the internationally renowned strength of biosciences research within the Alliance. Our students will benefit immensely from the expertise, superb facilities, joint training courses, and regular cohort activities available across the entire consortium.In keeping with the breadth of academic disciplines supported within GW4, the four universities are working with other academic and non-academic partners to support significant postgraduate training programme for the arts and humanities, powering the arts in the South West and Wales.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded South West, and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership was awarded £14.2 million funding over five years, equating to around 200 new studentships. A strong emphasis is placed on collaboration between the members of the consortium and the 19 partner organisations including English Heritage, the National Trust, the BBC, Cadw, and the Welsh National Opera.

In order to build upon these successes, we are investing significant resources in a broad range of research initiatives. In doing so, we maximise the research potential of each GW4 partner and our doctoral students benefit from the highest quality research experience and skills training possible.

Building communities

One of the Alliance’s key aims is to build research communities that have the scale and the capability to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges. Our ‘Building Communities’ programme is designed to establish new, high-quality research communities across GW4 and to help existing collaborations build on their work and to secure long term sustainable funding.

The programme consists of two funds, supporting communities from any academic subject that addresses a major research or societal challenge. As of September 2014, we have awarded 35 projects with over £650,000 of funding.

AVaRICE, a GW4 project funded through our accelerator fund and run in collaboration with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, is a ground-breaking project which uses algae to clean up polluted mine water, harvesting precious heavy metals and biofuels in the process.

GW4 researchers take untreated mine water samples from the Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall and grow algae in them, from which they can determine how effectively they remove materials such as arsenic and cadmium from the mine water. Our researchers then convert the algae into a solid form from which they hope to be able to extract and recycle heavy metals for use in the electronics industry. The remaining solid waste will then be used to make biofuels.

Acidic waste running off from mines is a global problem. In the developing world costly clean-up and remediation activities are ignored because of their high cost and low return. This technology could be applied to any type of mine or could even be used to clean up industrial effluent in the future. By making the clean-up process pay for itself, we hope to work together to improve the health and the environment of millions of people around the world.

Sharing infrastructure

As a consequence of cuts to the Research Councils’ capital provision and a new approach to equipment funding, the GW4 universities have been working together to make research equipment and facilities easier to share.

Our GW4 Research Equipment Database offers researchers a searchable online database, with access to over 1,300 pieces of state-ofthe-art equipment located across the four institutions; our GW4 Archives and Special Collections hold a wealth of rare published and unique unpublished materials, covering a range of subject areas; and, most importantly, we are investing in a number of programmes and initiatives to support staff development for our researchers and professional services staff.

At a time when funders are increasingly requiring researchers to develop and run larger, more complex projects, collaborations like GW4 that draw upon the individual strengths of a number of institutions are important because they provide not only greater value for money, but an essential opportunity for us to advance our understanding of the world.
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