Taking on challenges around the globe

Karin Helwig and Professor Ole Pahl are working to reduce pollution in waters from pharmaceutical residues
Karin Helwig and Professor Ole Pahl are working to reduce pollution in waters from pharmaceutical residues
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Glasgow Caledonian is committed to tackling equity, health and environmental problems, both at home and abroad, says Mike Mannion

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) has a unique social mission – “For the Common Good” – which underpins all of our research and informs our decision-making processes. Our research priorities reflect the ethos of GCU to work towards solving real societal challenges, both close to home and further afield.

GCU researchers are currently part of a European collaborative project to raise awareness of pharmaceutical residues in waste water and to explore new methods of reducing them. The benefit of working with partners from around the world is that together we are, more often than not, working on problems which have global relevance and, therefore, potential for global impact.

Lying at the heart of GCU life and its contribution to society, our research not only generates lasting economic, cultural, social, public policy and quality of life benefits. It attracts high quality staff and students from all over the world, informs the development of our academics and shapes the content of taught programmes to produce skilled, intellectually adept and employable graduates.

Having previously served as vice-principal of international at GCU, I know just how much our research enhances our reputation as an international centre of knowledge and expertise. It provides a basis for collaboration with other organisations in the UK and internationally across the public, voluntary and private sectors.

For these reasons, a research strategy is vital in providing the university with a clear direction for the range of its research activities and the development of its academic staff. As GCU’s pro vice-chancellor research, I am leading the university’s research strategy between now and 2020.

Our work seeks to address three societal challenges: inclusive societies; healthy lives; and sustainable environments. By highlighting these three major themes, we can provide common sense, real world applications of our research to prevent and solve problems.

Some current examples of how this works in practice include a project with Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT) to convert unwanted ingress water from the subway in Glasgow into a sustainable heat source, building on SPT’s existing energy efficiency strategy. Water in the underground tunnels has a temperature of around 14C, which is sufficient for obtaining heat. That heat will be extracted using energy efficient pumps to suck up warm water and use the heat to warm stations and nearby buildings. If successful, the technique would cut both heating and maintenance costs, and reduce disruption for subway passengers.

GCU’s research has significantly influenced policy addressing the lack of female representation in the public sector, as well as having impacts on policy making and content and public discourse on poverty.

New research bringing together researchers from GCU, Northumbria University, Newcastle University and the University of Manchester, aims to adapt an evidence-based exercise programme for falls prevention among older people with vision impairments. Falls and fear of falling have a big impact on older people’s lives. Many people stop going out altogether, and others reduce their activity so that they are much less active than they used to be. Exercise programmes can help this by building up their confidence and their physical strength, balance and stamina. This can help make them less likely to fall and more likely to have a better quality of life.

GCU researchers are also leading one of Europe’s largest ever investigations into the diagnosis and treatment of knee osteoarthritis, a painful condition which affects one in five people over 50. We are developing new methods to diagnose, treat, and even prevent the disease among those particularly at risk.

With funding from the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Fund, GCU’s work is aiming to improve access to water among the poorest and most vulnerable groups in Malawi and Zambia. The 18-month £600k Water for ALL project aims to help build sustainable capacity in achieving equity and entitlement in accessing water. Rural communities, particularly women and children, face major challenges in accessing water, often walking long distances daily to public water points. They are also at risk of disease from contaminated water. Improving access to water would promote not only dignity, equity, compassion and solidarity but also reduce disease and poverty.

Stroke is the single most common cause of severe disability. GCU is working to improve the lives of people affected by stroke and other long-term neurological conditions. Our work has raised awareness of research priorities among healthcare professionals, service managers, stroke survivors, carers and the general public. Our interdisciplinary research on complex interventions for communication problems, visual difficulties, physical impairments and activity limitations, continence care, as well as secondary prevention (ie lifestyle risk factor reduction) has made a significant contribution to clinical guidelines and open access education across the world.

So, as you can see, many of these projects have an impact on real problems in society. Within the overarching thematic areas, GCU has excellence in research in social innovation, equalities and justice, public health, managing long-term conditions, urban environments and efficient infrastructures. Clearly there are deep connections between these societal challenges and the interdisciplinary work needed to solve them.

We want to play to our key strengths and build sustainable strategic partnerships throughout our inter-connected world. A strong international academic profile and reputation is built on the ongoing relevance of our research to our communities, both in Scotland and internationally. As a university, we have a deep sense of responsibility and commitment to addressing the societal challenges that these communities face.

• Professor Mike Mannion is Pro Vice-Chancellor Research & Academic Provost GCU New York and Vice-Principal of Glasgow Caledonian University, www.gcu.ac.uk