The Grand Challenges: new collaborations making a difference
By uccg04p, on 28 November 2018
The research excellence of UCL’s staff continues to grow and grow, as witnessed by our publications, citations, research successes and our global reputation. However, we must also be more than the sum of our parts, consequently UCL’s commitment to address global challenges reflects our belief in the transformative role of universities through applying academic expertise for public benefit.
Today I’d like to set out our recent progress against that aim through UCL Grand Challenges, our flagship programme for cross-disciplinary collaboration with societal impact, and to draw your attention to some upcoming opportunities for your own engagement.
As an academic community, our understanding of complex problems is enriched and strengthened through the pursuit of both fundamental disciplinary problems and importantly by exploring interactions across and beyond disciplinary boundaries. They enable us to access new perspectives, gain new insights, challenge and test our ideas, and foster discovery.
Since UCL Grand Challenges was launched 10 years ago, it has brought together researchers from across UCL to help us collectively become more impactful. I would highlight five recent accomplishments:
- building on the UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate and Health to bring together more than 45 European and Chinese academics and experts including from UCL, Tsinghua University, Umea University and the University of Exeter, leading to the “Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change”, supported by Wellcome
- providing a total of £56,000 of funding awarded to new grassroots research on topics as diverse as controlling the spread of infectious disease in young children, adolescent mental health, Brexit, and resilience and pandemic preparedness
- supporting a range of grassroots-led projects through the pan-Grand Challenge Adolescent Lives initiative, resulting in workshops, new publications and a showcase event held in October
- supporting a project on foodbank use, led by Dr Angel Chater (UCL School of Pharmacy) and Prof George Grimble (UCL Institute for Liver & Digestive Health), the findings of which have been raised at debates in the Houses of Parliament and are expected to deliver further academic and policy impact
- enabling the formation of new cross-disciplinary institutes at UCL, including the Centre for Behaviour Change and the Global Disability Innovation Hub, based at UCL EAST.
You can find out more about the impact the UCL Grand Challenges has had, here at UCL and beyond, in our new brochure, Developing solutions.
When we launched UCL Grand Challenges, it marked a new approach in higher education, and many universities across the UK have subsequently developed their own programmes designed to foster cross-disciplinarity. We’re glad to see UCL’s cross-disciplinary approach gaining traction with the wider academic community, as indeed it has in funding calls – from the initial Research Council cross-cutting programmes to the more recent Global Challenge Research Fund and the UKRI’s cross-cutting ‘strategic priorities fund’.
Through its Industrial Strategy, the government has also embraced a ‘grand challenges’ approach, and we are engaged with the relevant team at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, including through UCL Grand Challenges, UCL Public Policy and the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose.
In the 2019 UCL Research Strategy, we will set out our goal to foster UCL’s world-leading research, built upon three key aims: Inspire and Empower Research Leadership, Cross Boundaries to Increase Engagement, and Deliver Impact for Public Benefit. We believe that by strengthening our individual and institutional partnerships we can use our combined expertise to make a difference to the world around us, and that this is more than just a lofty ideal – it’s a practical action that is supported at every level of the university.
I’d like to close by bringing to your attention the current opportunities to get involved with UCL Grand Challenges:
- we have funding opportunities of up to £2,500 open for work related to Embedded Inequalities (Justice & Equality) and Health Systems (Global Health). Please apply online before 3 December. There are also upcoming funding opportunities for work on Migration and Displacement (a pan-UCL Grand Challenge) and Social and Ethical Aspects of Artificial Intelligence (Transformative Technology).
- we are also hosting two discussions in December, ‘Free Speech in the Age of Social Media’, chaired by Prof Margaret O’Brien (UCL Institute of Education), and ‘Take Back Control: Empowering People in the Welfare State’, chaired by former Labour leader, Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP. Find out more and book tickets here.
The ultimate aim of the Grand Challenges is, to echo UCL 2034, to deliver global impact. We have a responsibility to deploy the collective expertise of our academic community to make a difference not just to each other, or to our disciplines, but to the wider world. We have made enormous strides in embedding a culture of cross-disciplinarity at UCL, a principle that guides not just UCL Grand Challenges, but also the UCL Research Domains, our cross-disciplinary centres and institutes, our doctoral training and many other initiatives. I’m proud of the work that the UCL community has done over the last ten years, and confident that the next decade will see even greater achievements for the benefit of humanity.
Professor David Price
Vice Provost (Research)