Aiming high with impact

Professor Kevin Warwick, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at Coventry University, looks at investments for the future

Coventry University has just announced a £100m investment in research over the next five years. At a time when university funding is under such pressure, and surpluses are being scrutinised – this is a bold move – but it is a move which shows that Coventry takes its research seriously. It is an investment in our future.

Coventry was named ‘Modern University of the Year’ for 2014. Our focus on applied research has established Coventry as one of the leading business facing universities in the country. We have prioritised teaching excellence which has been underpinned by our expertise in applied research. The result has been a rapid rise up the league tables, reaching 45th in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2014, the highest listing ever for a modern university in the history of these guides, but we want to go further.

We have recognised that our continued progress is dependent on us considerably enhancing our research excellence leading up to the 2020 Research Excellence Framework. That is why we are taking action now and have launched our new five-year strategy, ‘Excellence with Impact’, which positions research at the heart of our University. We must focus wholeheartedly on quality, and on enhancing our research outputs, in order to continue to climb the league tables. This strategy allows us to do that – building on our current applied research strengths and delivering a step change in quality.

In the future our research will be original and significant and be carried out with academic rigour; we will check what other people think. Our research will also have impact – it will happen in labs, but also in companies, with policy-makers and in wider society – people will hear about it and their lives will benefit as a result. I’m not a wordy, aloof person: I’m a ‘doing’ person interested in practical impact. Impact will be central in Coventry’s research story.

Under the new structure, we will have just two types of research centre, allowing the University to build critical mass and focus investment. Four University Research Centres (URCs), will represent those specialist research areas where we can become globally renowned for excellence, alongside Faculty Research Centres (FRCs), which will be discipline focused.

We are investing in people, and in facilities. We have already begun a global recruitment campaign for the most talented people who want to join us on our journey and enhance our already significant academic expertise. Our research investment is part of a wider £150m investment in our estate which will provide state-of-the-art facilities for our researchers, alongside a Research Hub that will support the trans-disciplinary nature of Coventry’s research.

Our goal is to become a top 100 university under 50 years old. This is an ambitious target but it is this ambition that brought me to Coventry to lead this new strategy. I don’t see any reason why ‘modern’ universities can’t complete with the research intensives.

I believe that being a modern university puts us at a big advantage – we don’t have a long history and a heritage that can be the cause of resistance to change. We can be fleet of foot – there is an appetite for change at Coventry – we’re making those changes now so that there is nothing holding us back from achieving our goal. We have the scope, drive and energy to move into higher quality research areas and move ahead of other modern universities who aren’t doing this. It is a tremendously exciting time for Coventry – going where no post 92 university has gone before!

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