London has long-been, and rightly so, famous for the high quality of research carried out in its universities and higher education (HE) colleges. Nonetheless, over the years questions have been raised by some about the extent to which institutions are maximising the natural advantages of proximity, and collaborating between themselves as much as they do globally.
Internationally speaking, alongside the older institutions, younger universities in London have built upon London’s global prominence and branched out to form strong links across the world. The picture for modern institutions is distinctive. For example, when we look at Horizon 2020 collaboration, a newer London university is almost twice as likely to be involved in a Horizon 2020 project with three or more partners than an equivalent HEI outside of London (more information upon request). Outside of London, the EU Horizon 2020 data suggests that younger institutions are not as well placed to form those international links, with a far higher proportion of grants won by individual researchers or involving less than three institutions. Clearly London’s reputation and connectedness, its strategic location as a bridge across the Atlantic, and (for now) into Europe, all contribute to the richness of international HE links. The density and diversity of HEIs in the city also provides fertile ground for increasing the number of pan-London collaborative projects. While these collaborations are not uncommon, however, it seems that much does get lost in the ether.
That is why London Higher, working initially with a small but representative group of eight HE institutions that embraces large multi faculties, post 92s, specialists and creatives, has been drawing together a methodology to maximise London’s potential in the area of research and innovation. The network is run along urban themes of housing, cultural and creative, economic development, health and social policy and transport.
There are good reasons for London Higher to form a network like this. First, given the ‘pockets of excellence’ present across London HEIs, there is a strong argument to suggest a more formalised way of linking these up should be found, while retaining the flexibility and dynamism needed to conduct cutting edge interdisciplinary research. This rolls into the idea that such a network may be able to provide a single interface for engagement with the London research base. One of the reasons why intra-London collaboration is perhaps harder is because the capital is so vast and complex. It’s the classic ‘paradox of choice’, where the number of options is inversely proportional to the number of decisions taken.
The London Urban Research Network (LURN) should make it easier for institutions to collaborate, whilst gathering useful and up-to-date information on the strengths in each of the networks’ member institutions. This should not only facilitate consortium-building and partner searches within and outside of HE, it should also be a positive signal to local and national government. For example, funding bodies can see that there is excellent science being done across the city that is worthy of support, and it will thus be proactive in shaping the funding agenda.
There is also the question of ‘community engagement.’ Most, if not all, London HEIs undertake community engagement work, whether academic, practical or both. Successful engagement with local communities over the research being done in London, which can change the way we all live in a very real way, should be a goal of a modern research network.
In addition, pan-London research into urban challenges, whether that’s affordable housing, environmental issues or cultural and creative development can, and should be, shared with other cities around the world. This international engagement is a longer-term aim of the network, with the goal of enhancing mutual knowledge exchange between global cities – and London is a true world city.
So – how does the network function?
The network is open to all London Higher member HEIs, and runs across the five themes mentioned above (housing, cultural and creative, economic development, health and social policy and transport). For more information, download the terms of reference here.
In the first instance institutions are invited to nominate the areas in which their research is strongest, to find these ‘pockets of excellence.’ London Higher catalogues this information and facilitates meetings between points of contact within the institutions (often a research manager), academics and relevant external stakeholders across one of three types of opportunity.
- Live funding calls
- Developing opportunities
- Areas of specialisms.
The network is just starting out, but already there have been significant strides made on linking institutions over topics such as heat extraction, water management, artificial intelligence, micro grid technology and applications of virtual reality. Interest in LURN is already growing and we expect the network to expand. For more information about LURN, and on joining the network if you are based in a London Higher member institution please do not hesitate to contact Jordan Hill (Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.org) in the first instance.