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Professor Marion Campbell, Vice-Principal for Research, University of Aberdeen

07 December 2020, 4:41 UTC Share

Communicating the importance of the higher education sector through the pandemic

The University of Aberdeen’s Vice-Principal for Research reflects on the role of Universities, and specifically the University of Aberdeen, during the pandemic.

Universities across the UK have been central in the efforts to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important that, as a sector, we communicate these efforts to policymakers to demonstrate what strong links between researchers and policymakers can achieve. The clearest examples can be found in higher education’s work on the health impacts of Covid-19, work to deliver a green energy transition and to upskill and reskill the workforce as the economy recovers.

The development of a vaccine has been the biggest priority for governments across the world this year. The University of Oxford’s efforts has been a clear example of how researchers and academic institutions are critical to policymakers’ efforts to eradicate the virus. Beyond vaccines, however, there is much important work going on that will have real life impacts on how we respond to the global crisis and support future recovery.

The University of Aberdeen in collaboration with NHS Grampian has undertaken Scottish Government (Chief Scientist Office) -funded work to determine the best use clinical data from vulnerable patients whose current treatment is being disrupted. This study, has helped rapidly identify the needs of these patients in order to help the Health Board plan alternative ways of continuing their care.

Another of our researchers has delivered a study focussed on maximising the applicability of trial results to ethnic minority groups. Funded by the UKRI-NIHR this rapid response research is now included in NIHR guidance and is helping to ensure greater consideration of ethnicity when designing clinical trials. Another early study, co-led by our researchers, has looked into the reopening of dental services across the world, highlighting measures that have worked across various countries, which has informed policy in the UK and internationally. These are all examples of real world impacts where original research is making a significant contribution to the healthcare responses to the pandemic.

As policymakers look beyond the pandemic, we have also seen a renewed focus on climate change – one of the biggest risks to the world and its population. This is where, once again, research will play an important role. Research provided by universities is absolutely critical to the delivery of the Prime Minister’s 10 point plan through the development of carbon capture technologies, ramping up the reliance on hydrogen, or zero emission planes and ships. The University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Energy Transition already contributes to cutting-edge research in these areas and will support the country’s transition to net-zero. The delivery of these ambitions depends on close links between research institutions and policymakers.

The UK’s economic recovery as a whole will also rely on universities leading the way in innovation, new technologies and to provide a skilled workforce armed with the right skills to carry us forward in a post-pandemic environment. Upskilling and reskilling will be required to suit a revised world where digital takes centre stage, and innovation and research that responds to the global challenges of our time.

At Aberdeen, we are guided by our 2040 strategy, which seeks to address the major interdisciplinary challenges faced by society at home and abroad. It is forward-thinking initiatives and strong leadership that will lead to greater productivity and a sustainable economic recovery. But it is the human impact on individuals, businesses and prospects of our cities and regions that needs to be both communicated and celebrated.

This year has shown the true value of the higher education sector. When it has truly mattered, the sector has stepped up by focusing its research efforts on the most pressing challenges we face domestically and internationally. As a sector and individual institutions, it is time to make sure we communicate these success stories to help cement our relationships with policymakers and ensure this level of collaboration continues.

Professor Marion Campbell is Vice-Principal for Research and is responsible for promoting the University’s research ambitions and ensuring the effective delivery of the University’s strategic objectives for research.

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