During the current RAE period, the research profile of UA69 has improved significantly. The dissemination of research has been prioritised, with all listed output in RA2 from well-regarded, peer-reviewed journals (compared with one in six in 1996); the number of research degrees awarded has increased from two to seven; research income has increased more than six-fold and key research-active staff have been appointed, contributing to a more focussed and vibrant research culture. This research culture forms a vital element of the University's increased commitment to sport, including its recent selection as the site for the Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI), a component of the UK Sports Institute. This £18m initiative involves close integration with the academic and research development of Sports Studies. A number of key posts have recently been advertised.
The Research Group
UA69 is located within the School of Applied Medical Sciences and Sports Studies, and comprises nine established academic posts. In addition, Prof MacAuley (Institute of Postgraduate Medical and Health Sciences) contributes to the research activities of the group. Five research active staff are included in the current RAE submission:
Prof Colin Boreham was appointed to the Chair of Sports and Exercise Science in 1996. His research field is exercise and health and he is research co-ordinator for UA69. Prof Alan Bairner was recently (1 December 2000) appointed to the Chair of Politics in Sport. His research interests lie in the role of sport in the construction of identity. Prof Domhnall MacAuley was appointed to the Chair of Primary Health Care in 1998. His research interests are in Sports Medicine and Exercise Epidemiology. Dr Marie Murphy is a lecturer in exercise physiology and received her doctorate in 1999. Her research interests lie in the health benefits of accumulated exercise. Dr Eric Wallace was appointed Reader in Biomechanics in 1999. His research interests are primarily in sports biomechanics but he also has involvement in rehabilitation biomechanics.
Over the current RAE period, the main activities of the group have focussed on exercise and health with an emerging strand in the Politics of Sport. Prof Boreham is Director of the "Young Hearts Project", a longitudinal study of lifestyles and health in young people. In total, this study has attracted external funding of £618,000 over the past four years, and involves collaboration with Prof JJ Strain in the University's 5* rated Biomedical Sciences group, and with eight other UK, European and US universities. Prof MacAuley was the Director of the Northern Ireland Health and Activity Survey (an off-shoot of the earlier Allied Dunbar National Fitness Survey). Outputs from these projects have played a major role in the shaping of regional public health strategies, for example, the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland (HPANI) Physical Activity Strategy (1998-2002), as well as informing international debate on the role of activity in the health of populations. Dr Murphy has also made a strong international impact with her research into the health benefits of accumulated exercise in women. Dr Wallace's research spans clinically-relevant and applied sports biomechanics with important contributions in both fields. The recent appointment of Prof Bairner brings to the unit an international research reputation in the field of sport and politics. The appointments of Profs Boreham, Bairner and MacAuley attest to the University's commitment to develop the research profile of UA69, within the broader strategic development of sport.
Other Units of Assessment to which related work has been submitted
11 (Subjects allied to Medicine): collaboration between Prof Boreham, Prof Strain, Drs Robson and Gallagher; 35 (Geography): collaboration between Prof Bairner and Dr Shirlow; (Rehabilitation Science): Drs Wallace and Bradley.
Mechanisms and Practices for Promoting Research
These are a continuum of University- and Faculty-wide practices and those developed specifically for UA69. With regard to the latter, regular formal meetings are held between Prof Boreham and research active staff to review progress and set goals. Particular care is paid to younger/less experienced staff, who are mentored by senior staff. The University has designated Sports Studies a "high priority" research group, and has invested generously to further its development. This support includes an annual Research Strategy Budget, supplemented by Vice-Chancellor's Discretionary Funds. The University has also funded a "New Blood" research post (Prof MacAuley) and has invested in three Contract Research Staff for UA69. Students in UA69 have also competed successfully for University Millennial Awards (enhanced scholarships for 1st class honours students) and for Vice-Chancellor's Research Studentships. Research interaction is stimulated by regular Research Seminars, at which staff, students and invited speakers present their research findings. This successful forum for research promotion has involved several internationally renowned speakers, for example Profs Armstrong [Exeter], Dunning [Leicester], Hardman [Loughborough], Mutrie [Glasgow], Shephard [Toronto], and van Mechelen [Amsterdam]. Research training for staff is also encouraged. For example, Dr Murphy attended the prestigious Research Course in Physical Activity and Health run by the US Centre for Disease Control in September 1999. The Staff Development Unit of the University also organises training on all aspects of research practice and there is a policy of freeing staff for periods of concentrated research activity. This is prioritised for younger staff. For example, Dr Murphy was granted a leave of absence to complete her doctoral thesis.
Nature and Quality of the Research Infrastructure
The University of Ulster is a multi-campus institution, but UA69 is located on one campus. Research is led by a Unit Co-ordinator appointed from the academic staff. The Co-ordinator, in consultation with the Dean of the Faculty of Science and Head of School has responsibility for staff development, resource management, information dissemination, performance monitoring and reporting. Office and laboratory space is conveniently located within the University. Research officers and research students are accommodated in open plan offices, each with access to a desk, filing cabinet and PC with current Windows software. Our research students play a large part in maintaining an enthusiastic research culture, and are funded from both external sources (British Heart Foundation, DHSS) and internal sources. Quality assurance for graduate study is provided by the Faculty of Science Research Graduate School.
Well-equipped research laboratories are available for Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics, and have undergone extensive refurbishment over the past four years (approximately £200,000). They are serviced by two technicians (Grades C and E). A considerable expansion of laboratory capacity is planned over the next four years arising from the awarding to the University of SINI. This initiative involves considerable long-term investment by the University (in partnership with the Sports Council for Northern Ireland; SCNI), in its sporting and related academic infrastructure, which will lead to a greater flow of potential researchers and research funders.
Alongside the Unit of Assessment and the Research Graduate School structure, the University's Research Office under the direction of the Pro-vice Chancellor for Research and Development, develops and integrates the various strands of research administration.
Arrangements for supporting interdisciplinary or collaborative research
The fostering of interdisciplinary and collaborative research is a central tenet of the research strategy within UA69 and has been successfully pursued. Strong synergies have been fostered within the unit and with staff from other units (eg Bairner and Shirlow [Geography]; Boreham and Strain, Gallagher and Robson [Biomedical Sciences], Wallace and Bradley [Rehabilitation Sciences]). Additionally, external collaboration has flourished. Prof Boreham has long-standing links with the Free University of Amsterdam (Extra Mural Research), Bristol (Social Medicine) and UCL (Cardiovascular Genetics) on aspects of the Young Hearts Project. Dr Murphy has collaborated extensively with staff from the Universities of Loughborough and Wolverhampton and more recently with the University of Glasgow on the accumulated exercise model. Prof MacAuley has close collaborative links with the cardiovascular genetics group in Paris, and with US colleagues from Wisconsin and Stanford. Collaborative links also exist between Prof Bairner and Liverpool Hope University and between Dr Wallace and the United States Professional Golf Association (USPGA) and the University of South Australia.
Relationships with industry and commerce
Formal links with 'end users' of research are evident within UA69. Prof Boreham works extensively with HPANI, and was instrumental in drafting their Physical Activity Strategy Action Plan (1998-2002). He sits on the Northern Ireland Physical Activity Implementation Group (NIPAIG) which reports directly to the Minister of Health. Both Prof Boreham and Dr Murphy are members of the HPANI Research Advisory Group which advises on research strategy and monitors progress towards the goals of the Action Plan. Prof Boreham is a member of the British Olympic Association's (BOA) Exercise Physiology Steering Group. Dr Murphy is a member of the SCNI and the management board of the Northern Ireland Institute of Coaching. Prof MacAuley is a director of the Institute of Sports Medicine (London), a member of the Sports Medicine Advisory Group of the UK Sports Institute, and was a member of the Implementation Group of the UK Sports Institute. He is also chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners Sports Medicine Group. Dr Wallace has established specific research links (via an Industrial Research Technology Unit [IRTU] project) with Courtaulds, and with the USPGA for whom he is carrying out research into the biomechanics of the golf swing. Finally, Prof Bairner has been a member of the SCNI Community Relations Working Party and has recently been invited onto a Ministerial Advisory Panel on the future of Irish League Soccer.
Arrangements for the development and support of research work of staff
A number of support structures and practices are in place for staff carrying out research work, both at the Institutional level (Research Office), Faculty level (Graduate School), School level (Travel Grants, Accommodation, Equipment Grants, Technical Support, etc) and Unit of Assessment level (Research Strategy Budget, Regular Planning Meetings, Teaching Relief, Leaves of Absence, etc).
Post-graduate studentships (Vice-Chancellor's Studentships, Millennial Awards) are available on a discretionary, competitive basis for three-year periods of study. Support from the University has also been forthcoming for three Research Assistants, to assist Prof Boreham, Dr Murphy and Prof MacAuley with their research. Conference funding is available from School resources, (approximately £500 per capita annually. Finally, the University supports younger researchers completing Doctorates by facilitating Leaves of Absence. Three staff in the unit have benefited from this in 1999.
Identify Research Potential
Dr Murphy continues to develop her research into the health benefits of moderate exercise in collaboration with Prof Boreham.
Departure of staff in categories A*, B and D and their effect on research
Prof Eric Saunders retired from the unit in 1999. He was not research active in the current period.
Dr Deirdre Scully also left in 1999, and was research active throughout her contract.
Staff on short-term contracts
Our Post-Doctoral Research Assistant (Dr Alison Gallagher) left her post in October 1999 for a full-time lectureship at the University. Three Research Assistants are currently attached to the Unit. Our fixed-term lecturer (Paul Boyle) is not research active, but supports the group's research work indirectly by carrying out Sports Science support work.