University so proud of 'world-leading' research projects

Aerial view of Norwich Research Park

The new Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development will be based at Norwich Research Park - Credit: UEA

Nine out of 10 pieces of research carried out at the University of East Anglia are either world-leading or internationally excellent, a new study has said.

From changing laws to planting trees, the UEA carries out a huge range of research through its various academic teams each year.

Now, the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, an assessment into the quality of research carried out at UK universities, has highlighted the importance of these pieces of work.

The study, which saw projects submitted from 157 universities nationwide, judged that 91pc of the research carried out at the UK to be either world-leading or internationally-excellent.

Prof David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, UEA

Prof David Richardson, vice chancellor of the University of East Anglia - Credit: UEA

Prof David Richardson, the UEA's vice chancellor, said: "As the sixth-most highly cited university in the UK according to Times Higher Education, UEA has always had a strong reputation as a research-intensive institution.

"But more than that – our research matters because it has real-world impact, drives change and improves lives. 

“These REF results are confirmation of that, and I am exceptionally proud to be able to say that UEA’s research is actively making a positive difference, demonstrating a huge return on public investment in research and helping to give Norwich and East Anglia a place on the world stage.”

UEA Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Fiona Lettice

UEA Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Fiona Lettice - Credit: Neil Hall/UEA

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The university submitted 1,836 pieces of research for assessment, produced by 793 different researchers from across its schools of study.

And the success saw the university's ranked in the top 20 of the country for research by Times Higher Education.

Prof Fiona Lettice, UEA pro vice chancellor for research and innovation, said: “REF2021 has been an enormous collaborative effort across the university, and is the outcome of years of hard work from hundreds of academics and support staff members, and I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this successful result. 

“The outcomes highlight the diverse and rich ways that UEA research is benefitting society and confirm our position as a globally significant centre of research with a track record in creativity and innovation.” 

Film-maker's documentary helps change the law

Dr Eylem Atakav, from the University of East Anglia (UEA). Photo: UEA

Dr Eylem Atakav, from the University of East Anglia (UEA). Photo: UEA - Credit: UEA

Eylem Atakav, a professor in film at the UEA can lay claim to having her fingerprints at least partially on a change of UK law.

In 2016, Prof Atakav worked on a documentary highlighting the pertinent issue of child marriage, a research project she worked on alongside a number of her students at the university.

She travelled home to her native Turkey and documented the stories of four women - two neighbours of her parents - who were forced into marriage as children.

When the documentary, Growing Up Married, was completed it was spread widely among policy-makers, being shown in the Houses of Commons and shared by charities and with police forces.

It then helped to shape the Minimum Age Act, a recently-passed law which changed the legal age of consent to marriage from 16 to 18.

Prof Atakav said: "The film was used to influence policy, which I am hugely proud of. Some people might say that film studies is a Mickey Mouse degree but this shows it can affect real change.

"It was a mere drop in the ocean compared to the decades of fantastic works from charities and other organisations, but it means a lot to have helped in my own way."

Keeping small businesses in the know

Prof Andrew Fearne of the UEA's Norwich Business School is researching how the retail revolution dur

Prof Andrew Fearne of the UEA's Norwich Business School is researching how the retail revolution during the Covid-19 pandemic will affect farms. He is pictured speaking at the 2019 Nuffield Farming Conference. Picture: David Betteridge - Credit: DAVID BETTERIDGE

The 'Who Buys My Food' project has proven a crutch to countless local food and drink businesses across the region.

The project, which is led by Andrew Fearne, analyses consumer data, largely from loyalty cards, to keep local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) informed on the demographics of the people who buy their produce.

Prof Fearne said this was instrumental in guiding the decision-making in these firms.

He explained: "The project is about helping small food producers to better understand just who is buying their produce - so they can make their business decisions based on these.

"If small businesses try to run themselves like big businesses, making all their decisions solely based on cost cutting, they just become like lemmings following each other off cliffs.

"By helping them know who the people are that are buying what they make, they can also understand what is important to them and use that to influence the major decisions they make."

Planting the orchards of the future

Tom Williamson, left, and Gerry Barnes, authors of Ancient Trees in the Landscape, at a 15th century

Tom Williamson, left, and Gerry Barnes, who have written a book on our declining orchards - Credit: Denise Bradley

The Orchards East project, has seen hundreds of new trees planted across 55 new orchards across the east of England.

It is led by landscape historian Tom Williamson and has shone a light on just how in decline orchards have been in recent decades.

Prof Williamson said: "Around 150 of our researchers have been going through historical ordinance survey maps and found that at one stage there were 10,134 orchards in the east - only about 13pc of which have survived.

"In the 1960s there were about 47,000 acres of orchards and these have gone down by about 87pc."

The project has been involved in planting 735 new trees across the region, while also highlighting the importance they have.

He added: "Through our reports we have been able to emphasise how important orchards are for biodiversity and raise awareness of this with the people who can influence decisions around them."

Unlocking the knowledge of the past

New Impressions: Redesigning Norwich's Renaissance Books. Norfolk based designers and companies prod

New Impressions: Redesigning Norwich's Renaissance Books. Norfolk based designers and companies produce new creative responses to the Heritage Centre's books. Dr Tom Roebuck. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Hundreds of books swelling with knowledge and lessons of the past have been introduced to modern audiences through the Unlocking the Archive project.

The project began as a partnership between the university and the Norfolk Heritage Centre but has since grown to include libraries and the National Trust.

Its researchers not only collate knowledge of what books from the 16th and 17th centuries say, but explore the stories around who wrote them, what they meant to the people that read them and how they can be reproduced for the present day.

Tom Roebuck, one of the project's leaders, said: "We take the works of scholars from the 16th and 17th centuries and look at who read them and why - almost like creating biographies of the books.

"We do this by looking at different versions of the books, whether they've been annotated and find out all we can about them."

The project has also seen historical books reproduced for digital audiences through the online project Discover Historic Books and has helped to inform history teaching across the region's schools.