GW4 announces new research communities and latest funding call

Latest funding call builds on £2.3 million investment in collaboration

The GW4 Alliance has announced its latest funding opportunity for collaborative research communities across its four universities. Applicants have until 31 October to submit their applications for the Initiator Fund (for new projects) and Accelerator Fund (for existing research communities).

The programme continues to build on the substantial success of GW4’s 68 research communities, which have produced pioneering findings to date, including producing biofuels from algaeaddressing schools intervention in self-harm and exploring the age of promises in British politics.

GW4 particularly welcomes Accelerator applications which aim to scale up existing communities to large scale bids in any area of research. Applications with a focus on the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) or Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund (ISCF) are also encouraged.

This call is open now and will close on 31 October 2017. It is anticipated that decisions will be made early in December 2017, with projects expected to commence in early-2018.

Applicants can download application forms and access guidance.

If you have any further queries at this stage, please do make contact with the GW4 Building Communities team by emailing or respectively.

New GW4 research communities will explore low carbon energy, health inequality and more

The GW4 Alliance has announced awards for six new research communities tackling a range of global challenges.

GW4’s new projects will focus on the following topics:

These latest awards bring the GW4 Alliance’s total investment in collaborative research communities to £2.3 million.

Professor Nick Talbot, Chair of the GW4 Board and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter (Research and Impact), said: “Our latest round of successful research communities demonstrate that GW4 is taking a proactive role in tackling vital challenges affecting developing countries, from social care to new energy.

They build on our existing investment and research communities to date, which are providing pioneering solutions to issues such as Alzheimer’s diagnosis and cyber security. Our collaborative communities continue to demonstrate the power of working together to develop world-leading research at a scale that would be impossible for a single institution.”

Civic data collaboration in Bath – a model for the UK?

Empowering the wider community to use and understand civic data is fast becoming one of the major challenges for local government today. Could a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research, Bath and North East Somerset Council and Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group prove to be an innovative model for other parts of the UK to adopt?

In 2012, the Harvard Business Review, seemingly without irony, declared the Data Scientist the “sexiest job of the 21st century”. This showed that complex data analysis had truly arrived as a tool of the future. That there is more data than ever before is surely the most self-evident truth facing anyone working in any field, let alone one in which data is an important currency.  This creates opportunities, possibilities and a popular narrative that something should be done about it all. Analysts are asked to anticipate this demand and help decision makers understand the opportunities, challenges and risks in all this data.

In local government, every service (from abandoned shopping trolleys to zoos) adds realms of transactional data to the corpus of local knowledge on a daily, if not instantaneous, basis. Cities are already using algorithms to predict crimere-route traffic and think about social care risk. It can sometimes feel as if any lamppost which isn’t wi-fi enabled is a waste. This execution has not been consistent, and the ability of city managers and local governments to realise the analytical opportunities inherent in this data is incredibly varied, with a number of different models emerging.

Analysing data in local civic spaces

Traditionally local government has run in-house analysis, often employing qualified specialists in fields such as demography, market research or public health. Teams are normally federated across an organisation or run through centralised units, and the relationship with IT services (the facilitators of access to data) is often unstructured. In-house analysis is currently characterised, alongside much of the sector, by increasing demand in the face of reductions in resources.

Some cities have already been thinking about the opportunities inherent in this more applied form of data for some time. Most famously, the New York model of an ‘Office of Data Analytics’ created a central space, outside of normal service delivery, to apply data science to public problems. The successes of this programme are widely documented. It is notable how similar in branding and involvement, how similar the look and feel of these narratives is, to those adopted by larger consultancy firms. Within the UK, NESTA have notably adopted the model and are rolling it out amongst a number of local authorities.

The use of consultancies is nothing new in the sector, and although expensive, is often preferable to employing rare skills in an organisation. Many of the larger consultancy firms are well established in the field of data analytics, often in association with an emerging ‘smart city’ agenda. These activities are often typified by a ‘black box’ approach to methodologies, accessed on a proprietary and paid-for basis. In some cases academic organisations themselves are incentivised to replicate this model, developing intellectual property and new methodologies with an eye to relicensing.

Finally, there are those areas adopting a more open model; the Data Mill North, originally in Leeds, but expanding fast; the Trafford Innovation Lab; and closer to home, Bath:Hacked have all provided a space localities can release data to empower the wider community to use local data. These models focus on an open data infrastructure, with Bath:Hacked being notable as having a local datastore owned entirely by the local community, rather than government itself.

It’s clear when looking at the exemplars in this area; that these innovations are often the preserve of larger or well-off cities. Innovation scales well, and those who have the money can develop, brand and sell their concepts and ultimately sustain the work through ongoing external investment. Those who can’t, won’t. Data ‘haves and have-nots’ may inevitably develop.

As public sector austerity remains one of the overriding forces of contemporary urban governance, there is a question about how it is possible to realise these benefits in places which might not have the advantages of scale or funding. It is too easy to finish any summary such as this with a passionate plea for government or some undefined higher power to provide funding for good data works, but in practice that is likely to be little more than an optimistic hope; instead we must continue to question if there may be another way.

An alternative way – towards partnerships of data and analytics?

In Bath and North East Somerset we think we have an interesting local approach, one which could perhaps scale without relying on ‘black boxes’ or extensive investment.

In 2013 a collaboration was established between the Council, Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and the Institute for Policy Research. The aim of this collaboration was to try to help the Council access academic skills and knowledge and realise actual policy impacts. Simultaneously the Council supported the development of Bath:Hacked.

This collaboration is based open principles of open data and open source and makes a virtue of the varied skills held across our civic space. No one organisation has the ownership of the entire process, nor are the benefits realised by one partner alone.

The collaboration has been successful in attracting external funding for projects as wide-ranging as school’s energy efficiency through to uses of new technology in Social Prescribing services. This approach has helped all partners use their analytical resources differently without requiring significant additional investment.

Such endeavours also come with some degree of risk. Our work is reliant on the passion and dedication of individuals, within organisations and in the community at large and is vulnerable to people changing jobs, leaving the area or finding themselves with less spare time to commit to this work. In addition, as the collaboration emerged from fixed term funding, the work itself was constrained by time. In addition we have faced various issues of timeliness, access and relevance in ensuring that analytical outputs reach their desired audience.

The future of collaboration

For 2017 the collaboration will look to move onto a more formal partnership footing and examine options to do this. They seem to range from increasing the number and range of informal networks to a structured ‘front door’ model.

Focussing more on an informal footing means we increase the sustainability of the collaboration and its reach, but increases the reliance on goodwill and personal commitment from individuals involved.

As we progress, the main question remains whether this model can scale, not just in terms of engaging beyond the traditionally active data community, but also whether it might provide a model for other areas, potentially those without the scale or resource to attract high-cost innovation.

Jon Poole is Research and Intelligence Manager at Bath and North East Somerset Council, and works with the IPR on the project Connecting data across public services in Bath & North East Somerset

The original version of this article can be found at the IPR Blog.

GW4 scientists shed new light on the complex processes that help the body combat stress

Scientists have developed a pioneering new approach to reveal how the body releases hormones in order to combat stress. The research has emerged from a GW4 community exploring neuroscience and mental health.

A team of researchers has uncovered the regulatory processes which govern how glucocorticoids – steroid hormones with powerful anti-inflammatory effects – are released into the body.

Using predictions from a mathematical model, the team showed for the first time how individual regulatory processes act holistically to govern changes in hormone secretion when the body is in a healthy state, compared to when it is exposed to stress-induced inflammation.

The researchers, including mathematicians from the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute and physiologists from the University of Bristol’s Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology, validated these predictions through experimental physiology studies.

The study is published in the leading scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Monday, 17 July 2017.

Dr Francesca Spiga, one of the lead authors of the study from the University of Bristol, said: “This is the first study to show just how dynamically complex the adrenal gland response to stress is, and how sensitive is to clinically important perturbations, such as pro-inflammatory cytokines. Our hope is that a better understanding of this system will improve treatment of patients with inflammatory conditions, such as those undergoing major surgery.”

The body’s ability to react to stress relies on a dynamic process of hormone secretion. When stress is detected, the adrenal glands send a surge of glucocorticoid hormones, including cortisol, to mount an efficient, rapid response.

Cortisol, known as “the stress hormone”, helps our bodies optimise use of energy sources such as glucose. It achieves this by regulating key bodily functions such as the immune response, digestion, wound-healing, and even cognition and mood.

Dr Eder Zavala, a recently appointed MRC Research Fellow from the University of Exeter and one of the lead authors of the study said: “Glucocorticoid hormones, such as cortisol, are made in the adrenal glands, which effectively work in a similar manner to shock absorbers on a vehicle.

They buffer the body against stress so you can carry on without feeling the impact too severely. During disease however, these natural shock absorbers lose their efficiency, and you start to notice the impact more.

This research allows us to understand the network that controls the synthesis of these hormones, so we not only see how it works in healthy scenarios, but predict what goes wrong during stress-related illnesses.”

Stress hormone secretion is regulated by a complex neuroendocrine network involving the hypothalamus in the brain, and the pituitary and adrenal glands in the periphery. Although the many key factors involved in this axis have been well studied, the way in which they interact as a network to regulate the glucocorticoid secretion has not been investigated.

Professor John Terry, from the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute and one of the senior authors of the study said: “It has long been a mystery whether the adrenal glands secreted glucocorticoids purely under instruction from the brain or whether the gland itself played a role in governing the level of hormones.

Our latest findings add to a growing body of evidence that stress, and the body’s response to stress, is not all in the head, but that the adrenal gland is playing an important role in regulating our stress response.”

‘Dynamic responses of the adrenal steroidogenic regulatory network’ is published in PNAS.

Exploring nanofabrication facility collaboration across the GW4 Alliance

The first GW4 Nanofabrication Workshop was hosted by the University of Bath this month to raise awareness of the Nanofabrication facilities at the GW4 universities and explore new cooperative activities between them.

Over 50 academics, PhD students and post-doctoral researchers from the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter attended the workshop which was funded by an EPSRC grant.

Nanofab_Workshop_July_2017The event started with a keynote lecture by Dr Andy Sellars, Chief Business Development Officer for the new Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult in Cardiff. This was followed by presentations from the Managers of the four institutional nanofabrication facilities, describing their equipment infrastructure and capabilities.

In addition to short talks and posters about nanofabrication-enabled research from PhD students, research staff and academics, there were also discussions on ways to enable the sharing of equipment and expertise between facilities, and joint equipment bids were explored.

Nanofab_Workshop_July_2017_2Better cooperation between the four facilities would help cover equipment failures and allow access to unique pieces of equipment that are only available on one of the other sites. Future joint equipment bids will focus on large value specialised pieces of equipment that will be accessible to researchers from all four universities. Other forms of cooperative activity could involve multi-site service and maintenance contracts for key pieces of equipment as well as joint training for research staff.

Professor Simon Bending, academic head of the nanofabrication facility at the University of Bath said: “The Workshop was very successful in raising awareness of the capabilities of the Nanofabrication Facilities in the four GW4 Universities as well as the challenges they face. We have committed ourselves to streamlining processes for equipment sharing and will be exploring future cooperative training activities and joint equipment bids.”

The Facility Managers will continue to meet on a regular basis and joint training and awareness-raising activities are planned for the coming year. Over the next three years, there will also be opportunities to bid to calls for new University partners of the Institute for Compound Semiconductors in Cardiff.

We are recruiting

The GW4 Alliance is recruiting for the following role:

GW4 Research Development Manager

This is an exciting opportunity to join GW4 to implement our new ambitious vision. Guided by a dynamic and committed senior leadership team across the universities, you will interact with academic and management teams across the Alliance, external regional stakeholders, and funders of research. Working closely with the newly appointed Director of GW4 and GW4 Programme Managers embedded within the universities, you will drive strategic initiatives across the partnership. This career opportunity will suit a dynamic individual with ambition and a keen, broad interest research management within higher education.

You should have experience in research, and in research administration and/or strategic management, ideally obtained in a higher education institution and/or funding agency. Informal enquiries are welcome and should be addressed to Sarah Perkins (

The role will be based in Bristol but we welcome applications from all GW4 member institutions and external candidates.

The University of Bristol is committed to creating and sustaining a fully inclusive culture. They welcome applicants from all backgrounds and communities.

Further information

Exploring the ‘age of promises’ in British politics

How does our relationship with electoral promises reflect the changing nature of British politics? New research, led by the University of Exeter, will explore how political pledges have been developed and received throughout the 20th century.

Recent years have demonstrated the power of political pledges, whether these are delivered on the side of a bus or on a giant stone monument.

Researchers at the University of Exeter are now launching a major project to explore whether social and technological developments such as mass enfranchisement and broadcast television have changed our relationship with electoral promises.

The interdisciplinary research project, which is funded by a Leverhulme Research Project Grant of over £150,000, will analyse archive material such as manifestos, leaflets and speeches from the beginning of the 20th century up to 1997 to develop a clearer understanding of the role of electoral pledges.

Researchers will explore how pledges are developed within political parties and presented by the media and through party imagery, such as candidate photographs and graphic design.

The project will also chart the influence of major political figures, such as Winston Churchill and Tony Blair, and the impact of ‘sea-change’ elections in 1906, 1945, 1979, and 1997.

Professor Richard Toye, historian at the University of Exeter and GW4 community lead, said: “This project explores the development of 20th century British general election manifestos and addresses and emerges from a GW4 collaborative research community.

Our focus is on what these sources reveal about the evolving practice of British political communication and the changing relationship between voters, candidates and parties.

We predict that examination of these sources will reveal a shift from a ‘discursive’ form of politics towards a ‘programmatic’ one, and therefore we suggest the period should be seen as an ‘Age of Promises’.”

Dr Sarah Perkins, GW4 Director, said: “It is a timely moment to reflect on electoral promises and the changing nature of political communication. We are delighted that the Leverhulme Trust has recognised the significance of this project and will fund two PhD studentships over the next three years.

This project amply demonstrates how GW4 research communities are tackling some of the most vital challenges facing society today, such as political apathy.”

It is hoped that the research will contribute to a better understanding of political pledges, which to date have not been sufficiently examined, and will provide an important research focus for political historians across the UK. The research team will use social, digital and traditional media to disseminate findings from the study.

The project has emerged from the GW4 Modern British History and Politics research community, and will be supported by an advisory board of researchers from across the GW4 Alliance institutions.

Featured image reproduced under Creative Commons

GW4 International Careers Fairs 2017

After the great successes of the 2016 GW4 China Careers Fairs in Shanghai and Beijing, we are proud to present the



GW4 Universities International Careers Fairs 2017

GW4大学国际人才交流会 2017

The event is available to students graduating in 2016 and 2017 from the GW4 Universities – Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.



Hilton Shanghai

No. 250 Hua Shan Road

Shangai, 200040, China

Monday 11 September 2017, 13.30-18.00

Book here!

GW4 Careers Fair Guide 2017 – SHANGHAI







Book here!



Hilton Shenzhen Futian

Tower B, Great China International Finance Centre

1003 Shennan Road

Shenzhen, 518000, China

Thursday 14 September 2017, 13.30-18.00

Book here!

GW4 Careers Fair Guide 2017 – Shenzhen









Book here!

2017深圳 GW4人才交流会指南

25 multinational recruiters will be exhibiting at each event to promote graduate opportunities in China.

Employers are booking their spaces.  To give you an idea of who you will meet Decathlon, GKN China, Nielsen, Unilever, IBM, Abercrombie and Fitch, Expedia, Fiat Chrysler Group and H&M are booked in for Shanghai.  At Shenzhen you will meet PwC, Mars, Decathlon, Nielsen, and Abercrombie and Fitch.  This is not the final list as spaces are still being filled so we will keep you updated over the next few weeks.

Leaf Ye, Senior Recruiter, Abercrombie & Fitch (Asia), said:

“The GW4 Career Fairs offered a great opportunity for Abercrombie & Fitch to connect with a diverse group of graduates with high quality academic backgrounds, as well as a strong employability profile. We enjoyed a really memorable experience and opportunity to meet such great candidates. My team appreciated being invited to such successful fairs and are already looking forward to participating next year.”

This page will be updated with 2017 exhibitors as they are confirmed.


雇主正在预订他们的展位。迪卡侬, GKN 中国区, Nielsen, Unilever, IBM, 亚伯克朗比及费区公司(A&F), Expedia, Fiat Chrysler集团及 H&M 这样的国际大企业在上海有预订展位。在深圳, PwC, Mars, 迪卡侬, Nielsen, 及亚伯克朗比及费区公司(A&F) 会有出席。这不是最终名单,我们将在接下来的几个星期内继续更新出席雇主名单。

A&F 亚洲地区资深招聘专员Leaf Ye 说:



GW4 network launches international Gender-Based Violence journal

Policy Press and the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol, which includes a network of researchers across the GW4 Alliance, have launched a new Journal of Gender-Based Violence, the first international journal based in Europe to address this area of research.

Gender-based violence is a major issue worldwide, with one in three women experiencing violence in their lifetime.

The Journal of Gender-Based Violence will give a voice to the experiences of survivors, and will explore the impact of intersectionality with other identities, such as ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, faith, disability and economic status.

The Journal aims to publish world-class research to aid understanding of gender-based violence, and to analyse the policy and activism surrounding it. Its articles will span the breadth of gender-based violence, including prostitution, domestic abuse, ‘honour’ killings and trafficking.

The GW4 Gender-Based Violence Network was originally formed through the GW4 Building Communities programme, and has since developed independently to continue collaborative research and networking.

The editors of the Journal of Gender-Based Violence  are inviting interest from researchers working across the social sciences and related fields including social policy, sociology, politics, criminology, law, social psychology, development and economics, as well as disciplines allied to medicine, health and wellbeing.

For more information and to access the first edition of the Journal free online until 30th June, visit the University of Bristol’s Policy Press. For more information, follow the journal’s Twitter account or sign up to its newsletter.

What is your experience of evidence-based policy? GW4 community calls for feedback

A GW4 research community is calling for academics to share their experiences of evidence-based policy in order to shape a new political ‘matchmaking’ service

Researchers from all GW4 institutions and University College London are developing the UK Evidence Information Service (EIS) to facilitate information flow from academics to parliament through supporting parliamentary research services. It is hoped that this work will promote evidence-informed decision-making.

The GW4 research community has partnered with the House of Commons Library and the National Assembly of Wales Research Service with the aim to provide parliamentary research services with a single gateway to a network of academic experts in science, technology, medicine, arts and humanities, social sciences and more.

It is hoped that the service will put an end to “the ceaseless merry-go-round of failed policies and cherry-picked statistics”, says Dr Andrew P. Kythreotis of Cardiff University.

He says: “Within 24 hours of asking a question, politicians or civil servants would be placed in direct contact with specialist experts in that field. No question would be considered too big, too small, or too stupid. In short, the service would be a carefully managed matchmaker, linking the world of science and research with the world of politics.”

The GW4 research community undertook a ‘citizen study’ in 2014-15 that found that 85% of politicians would be supportive of the ‘matchmaking’ service, with many saying that the service would level the playing field between political parties in terms of their access to academic expertise.

The researchers are now seeking to refine the service through a confidential survey with a view to eventually roll it out through parliamentary research services in England and Wales.

Academics across the UK are asked to share their experiences of policy making, such as contributions to select committee hearings and think tank reports.

The survey takes approximately 5 – 10 minutes to complete and is fully confidential.

Complete the survey here:

Taming the Theoretical Beast: Understanding, Selecting and Applying a Theoretical Framework to your Doctoral Research

A workshop for social sciences qualitative PhD researchers, in collaboration with Cardiff University Doctoral Academy and funded by the GW4 Alliance

“What is your theoretical framework?” The dreaded question for many PhD students. Does it matter? What does it mean to “apply” a theory in the social sciences? Do I really need to declare theoretical allegiance? What can I gain from using the right theory? Where do I even begin?

This one day workshop aims to assist doctoral candidates in understanding, selecting and applying a theoretical framework to their research. The workshop also provides a space for participants to engage with these issues freely and openly. At the end, participants should have gained some knowledge and skills to not only confidently respond to the questions above, but to select and apply a theoretical framework to their doctoral research.

Apply by submitting a statement (no more than 200 words) of your research, the nature of your theoretical concerns and what you hope to gain from attending this workshop.

Deadline for application submission: April 23, 2017.

Places are limited to 8 for each GW4 University: Bath; Bristol; Exeter (including Exeter’s Cornwall campus); Cardiff. A waiting list will be created should the workshop be oversubscribed.

Register now or find out more. 

This is a GW4 Doctoral Student Training Scheme event and GW4 PGRs are eligible to attend.

Contact Carolyn Graham at should you require further information.