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10 years of GW4: fostering talent, fuelling innovation, and transforming society

Professor Colin Riordan
Professor Colin Riordan
President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University

10 years of GW4: fostering talent, fuelling innovation, and transforming society

Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, reflects on his time at Cardiff, explains why jointly founding GW4 is one of his proudest achievements during his Vice Chancellorship and shares his hopes for the future of the alliance, as it celebrates its 10-year anniversary. 

As one of the founding Vice-Chancellors of the GW4 Alliance, thinking about my time at Cardiff over the past decade reminds me of how far we have come. I’m proud to have been part of the group that created a union of four research-intensive, competitive universities, united in our ambition to create a greener, fairer, and more prosperous region and wider society. The decision to pool our resources and leverage collective research and innovation efforts has proved to be transformative, making us stronger together than we could be as a single institution.  

Underpinned by the visionary leadership of my colleagues at Bath, Bristol and Exeter, GW4 has nurtured collaboration, facilitated interdisciplinary research and tackled global challenges head-on. The unique regional and cross-border nature of GW4 has granted us access to diverse funding sources and support systems in both Wales and England, opening a wealth of opportunities for groundbreaking initiatives.  

I believe one of GW4's greatest successes lies in the development of talent and the fostering of innovation. From the start, we placed a strong emphasis on supporting postgraduate researchers and developing our early career researchers. Through collaboration, GW4 has created a supportive environment for these groups to collaborate, learn and grow into independent researchers. We adapted the Welsh Crucible programme to develop the first GW4 Crucible – an early career researcher leadership programme that enhances career development through interdisciplinary collaboration. Now in its 7th year, it has supported over 200 ECRs and is a fantastic example of how GW4 shares resources not just in terms of research and facilities but also of expertise and development initiatives.  

The significance of collaborating on doctoral training centres cannot be overstated. Our programmes are highly collaborative, involving a range of academic and non-academic partners. Across the GW4 institutions, we host 30 externally funded Doctoral Training Centres and Partnerships to help develop the next generation of research leaders. In all areas of industry, it is essential to support the development of new researchers, innovators and ideas, and that's where GW4 excels because research and innovation are fundamentally all about people. 

We also remain committed to recognising the significant achievements and vital role our technical community plays in enabling our universities’ world-leading teaching, research and innovation. The GW4WARD programme aims to support technical professionals across all our institutions to gain recognition, visibility, and career development opportunities. The recently funded Cardiff-based GW4 Clinical Trial IT and Data Management project enhances the invaluable contributions of technicians by providing training, as well as encouraging efficiency through increased shared infrastructure and capabilities. 

The GW4 Alliance has harnessed the potential of shared facilities such as the GW4 supercomputer Isambard 3 to be hosted at the National Composites Centre on the Bristol and Bath Science Park, the Brain Research Imaging Centre based in Cardiff and our VR Simulators facilities at Bath and Exeter. By pooling our resources and enabling shared access to cutting-edge equipment and facilities we can overcome barriers, drive scientific discovery and enable research on major global challenges including innovations in healthcare, climate predictions, the built environment and artificial intelligence. Furthermore, GW4's collaboration encompasses our special collections, libraries, and art collections. In sharing these treasures, GW4 enhances the research capabilities across disciplines and supports the creative economy. 

At GW4’s 10-year anniversary event in May, it was great to see the four universities coming together to reaffirm our commitment to collaboration on a regional basis and launch our new strategic vision. GW4’s vision for the future tackles pressing global challenges that transcend national boundaries with a focused emphasis on four key areas: cyber and digital, sustainable Net Zero, health and wellbeing, and creative communities. Addressing complex challenges will only be possible through collaborative efforts, interdisciplinarity and a whole systems approach. GW4’s strength is bringing together researchers and external partners from different disciplines to work at pace and scale to gain new insights and develop innovative solutions.  

As I reflect on the past 10 years, I am filled with pride for the accomplishments we have achieved and the immense potential that lies ahead. GW4 has become a powerhouse for research and innovation, generating a return on investment that far surpasses expectations. For each £1 we invest in collaborative research and innovation communities, we generate £20 in external research income. With its interdisciplinary approach and unwavering commitment to collaboration, GW4 is poised to address global challenges, make significant contributions, and lead the way to a more connected, sustainable, healthier and creative world. 

University of Bath
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
University of Exeter