The GW4 Alliance, a partnership between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, and Exeter, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary at the ‘GW4 - 10 Years of Ideas into Action, Our Vision for the Future’ event highlighting its achievements and future vision. The event, at the ICC Wales, included senior leaders from each university, researchers, early career researchers, technical staff, and external partners.
Senior leaders from each of the alliance’s institutions discussed GW4’s accomplishments over the past 10 years and reflected on the opportunities created through the partnership. GW4’s commitment to supporting early career researchers (ECRs) was emphasised by Professor Colin Riordan, Vice Chancellor at Cardiff University, through programmes such as GW4 Crucible which has to date helped over 200 ECRs develop their leadership skills and professional networks throughout their careers. GW4 also offers a supportive research environment for all including postgraduate researchers through its Doctoral Training Entities. In further praise for GW4 programmes, Professor Martin Siegert, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Cornwall) at the University of Exeter, spoke about the importance of collaboration and interdisciplinary research in addressing major societal challenges through the GW4 Building Communities Programme. He noted that since its founding in 2014, the programme has enabled academics from across GW4 universities to work collaboratively to deliver world-class research and innovation. The programme's flagship activity is the GW4 Generator Fund, which offers annual competition grants of up to £20K for six months to fund pilot research, workshops, and conferences and has delivered its highest return on investment to date at 20:1.
Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice Chancellor at the University of Bristol championed the latest initiative, GW4 Connect which provides mentorship and group coaching for underrepresented and minoritised groups within the postgraduate research community. All four Vice Chancellors of the GW4 institutions recently wrote a letter to the government, advocating for policy changes, such as access to government-backed childcare schemes to support postgraduate researchers. Professor Ian White, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath highlighted how underpinning the delivery of all the research and innovation programmes across the GW4 institutions is the crucial role of technical staff. The GW4 Alliance has around 1300 technical staff who manage over 1700 items of shared equipment. The GW4WARD programme was launched to increase the visibility and recognition of the technical community while supporting technical staff.
GW4 Director, Dr Jo Jenkinson, unveiled the alliance’s new strategic vision and visual brand identity. Attendees had the chance to engage with the GW4 strategic priorities which include tackling global challenges through advanced cyber and digital transformation, accelerating the transition to sustainable net-zero, capitalising on creative communities to foster sociocultural growth, and advancing health and wellbeing research and innovation for all.
The Thought Leader Panel at the event featured industry-leading experts in each strategic priority sharing their thoughts to shape the alliance's implementation plans. The panel included Professor Dame Anne Johnson, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, and Dr David Pugh, Head of Sustainability at Digital Catapult who both commented on the power of collaboration through GW4 in supporting health and digital research. Katherine Bennett CBE, CEO High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Chair of the Western Gateway, shared her thoughts on achieving Net Zero through collaborations with industry to make sure resources are used efficiently. Patrick Younge, Cardiff University Chair of Council and Founder and MD at Skin in The Game Studios, emphasised the need for further communications surrounding GW4 to advertise the wealth of knowledge exchange possible through the alliance. The Thought Leaders also identified opportunities for collaboration and provided provocations to frame thematic strategic discussions in the afternoon. The session was an important opportunity for the alliance to hear from thought leaders across different fields and shape its future activities accordingly.
Breakout thematic discussions were held on each strategic priority to help identify opportunities for shaping the alliance's implementation plans. The breakout group for accelerating the transition to sustainable Net Zero, led by Professor Phil Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Bristol, discussed the opportunities for unifying Net Zero responses across the institutions, with the breakout group for tackling global challenges through advanced cyber and digital led by Professor Sarah Hainsworth, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Bath, emphasising the need to invest in the next generation. Professor Roger Whitaker, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation & Enterprise at Cardiff University, led the group tasked with capitalising on creative communities to foster sociocultural growth and agreed that GW4’s unique placement puts researchers in an excellent position to leverage resources to industry. Professor Neil Gow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact) at the University of Exeter, led the group for advancing health and wellbeing research and innovation for all, who discussed ways that GW4 could pioneer the inclusion of local authorities and stakeholders in health policy decisions. The leaders of each group facilitated discussions among attendees, who were encouraged to write their thoughts on capture cards.
The conversations arising from these breakout groups were enlightening and will help guide GW4’s strategic vision for the next 5 years. Common themes emerged amongst the groups including a desire to increase awareness of GW4's achievements and impact, in order to further their reach and increase the alliance’s ability to positively impact society.
Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, Director of the GW4 Alliance, said "I am thrilled with the success of the GW4 10 year anniversary and Strategic Vision launch event. The discussions gave us a great opportunity to reflect on our collective achievements and celebrate the contributions of all our members and partners. The enthusiasm and passion demonstrated by attendees for the next 5 years was truly inspiring. We are grateful to all our members for fostering a research culture that is innovative, collaborative, and one we can be proud of. Here's to an exciting future for GW4!"
As the GW4 Alliance moves forward with its new strategic vision and brand identity, it remains committed to tackling global challenges and advancing research and innovation for the benefit of all.