Monthly Archives: June 2013

Ethics, Universities and Research

by Peter Larkham

We have just ended the second successful BCU Ethics Conference, this time focusing on research ethics including four guest speakers on concepts of research ethics, researching children, and fraud in research. The event was lively and informative. The presentations will be available to BCU staff and students on the iCity research community tab (https://icity.bcu.ac.uk/Research-Community).

These are not trivial issues. Ethics should permeate all of the activities of a modern university, not just its externally-facing research. But research, at all levels from undergraduate projects to PhDs and major externally-funded projects, needs to be carefully designed to be ethically robust. Such research protects those involved in the research, whether they might be participants, the researchers themselves and even the reputation of the institution and funding bodies. This is most significant where these might be vulnerable people, such as young people and others for whom the concept of “informed consent” is problematic; and, of course, young researchers are also vulnerable to undue pressures.

Quote for Blog 4

Universities, including our own, have woken up to at least some of these issues in recent years, and have some policies and procedures in place. But we need to ensure that these are both appropriate and suitably followed. Ethics review should not be simply a “tick box” one-off exercise. Research evolves over time, and some research takes years: we might need a continued engagement with ethics concepts and procedures. Ethics awareness needs to be embedded more deeply in staff activities from induction onwards; and likewise in our teaching, at all levels. Our business and administrative practices, and overall focus and mission statement, should explicitly refer to ethics. We should aspire to be known as an ethically-robust university. In that way we could attract research partners, funding, professional and business collaborators, and better students.

I hope that we’ll have another conference, perhaps sooner than this time next year. Perhaps the focus should be on how we embed ethics in our teaching and learning activities. That might attract those who decided not to come today, saying that they weren’t researchers, so research ethics were irrelevant to them!

Peter J Larkham is Professor of Planning in the Birmingham School of the Built Environment, and has led the concluding sessions of both BCU Ethics conferences. His most-cited publication is on the treatment of plagiarism (http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/cjfh/2002/00000026/00000004/art00005), though he doesn’t think that it’s his best paper!


Research and the Academic World

larkhampaper

by Peter Larkham

Mark Reed makes some provocative statements about academics, research, excellence and impact.  He is quite right to emphasise these points at a time when the academic world is changing fast.  We need to be flexible and change, too.  All academics worth their salary would agree that we need to demonstrate the highest possible standards in research quality output, research impact, and teaching.  But not all excel at all three.

Research quality output: this is the older yardstick by which researchers are measured.  Even so, it seems strangely difficult to secure sound and shared assessments of quality; in fact it sometimes seems to depend how an assessor was feeling that morning.  This gives us some concern when we think about how the next government-driven review, the Research Excellence Framework, will review this aspect of excellence.  The process lacks transparency and detailed feedback – both potentially compromise the quality of the process and its outcomes.  We often feel that we can recognise value and excellence, but just what is it that distinguishes the very best – what one assessor once described as “Nobel-level”?  But there aren’t Nobel prizes in the built environment!  So are all disciplines assessing Continue reading Research and the Academic World


Why isn’t our research having a greater impact on UK society?

IMG_2183

by Mark Reed

Throughout history, civilisations have risen and fallen on their ability to generate new knowledge and innovate in the face of major challenges. In the UK, many of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy are knowledge-based. This is made very clear at the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo 2013 at Millennium Point this month, which argues that design and innovation are drivers of wealth creation. This thirst for knowledge goes right to the heart of Government, with policy-makers increasingly striving to make “evidence-based” decisions on controversial issues like the designation of Marine Protected Areas and the creation of new markets for peatland carbon – issues that my colleagues and I at Birmingham School of the Built Environment are researching.

I think that we, as researchers, often take for granted that we have privileged access to the latest knowledge, forgetting that this is often locked behind publisher pay-walls. We have the skills to generate answers to some of the biggest questions facing society, and yet as a research community in the UK, only a small proportion of our work actually provides answers to these big questions. So why isn’t more UK research having a greater impact on society?

Continue reading Why isn’t our research having a greater impact on UK society?


Has Health and Safety Gone Mad?

Has Health & Safety gone too far?
Has Health & Safety gone too far?

by Ian McDonald

On 11th June, the Construction workers’ Union (UCATT) held a rally entitled ‘SOS: Save our Safety’ in an attempt to “highlight and expose the … Government’s attacks on health and safety”. This stems from a speech given by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in January 2012 in which he told an invited audience of entrepreneurs and representatives from small businesses that he is “waging a war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British business”.

Mr Cameron’s comments were, unsurprisingly, well-received by much of the written press – who have been at the forefront

Continue reading Has Health and Safety Gone Mad?