Sunday, 5 June 2011

ESRC reviewed, UCL revisited, and a Dry Wedding in Bewdley

This week was the final shortened working week for a while, and I do like Bank Holiday weeks. It was a busy one though, with plenty of student concerns to resolve, the start of the transformational interviews, a Research and Innovation Away day, the VC colloquium on Arts and the Humanities at the University of Salford – for some reason I had been invited to be a Panel Member. Towards the end of the week, I sat on a different panel, a recruitment panel for a Professor in Midwifery – more of which in a later blog.

The week ended however, with a visit to Lancaster University to take part in the first Regional Event facilitated by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC). The event was hosted by Lancaster at their magnificent campus on one of the hottest days of the year so far. 

The day was facilitated by Paul Boyle, Professor in Human Geography at the University of St Andrews and current Chief Executive of the ESRC. He outlined the changes the ESRC have made and which are introduced from June 2011. These changes have been driven in part by the reduced funding available for commissioning research, and partly because the number of applications has risen by 38% over the last 3 years, whereas the success rate for applicants has stayed at a stubbornly low 13%. Many of us have spent a great deal of time preparing bid applications, which are then sent for review and clearly the attendant time and cost involved in this is not worthwhile if only 13% of applications are getting funded. So part of the day was around discussing how this situation might be managed.

Interestingly, there was also an opportunity to hear about the existing and planned programmes. I was struck in particular by the longitudinal studies (and these really are life time studies) funded by the ESRC – this is the only funding body able to commission and pay for such studies. The most famous of which is possibly the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS).

Its longitudinal design means that the same individuals are re-interviewed on each successive year. Similarly, children from these households become eligible for interview as they reach the age of 16. Thus the sample has remained broadly representative of the population of Britain, and provides unique data on the dynamics of change in the UK population. The BHPS has been running since 1991, and now includes around 9,000 households and 22,000 individual members (target is 40,000 members).

The study collects data about each sample member and his or her household at annual intervals. Such panel surveys provide unique information on the persistence of such states as child poverty or disability, on factors that influence key life transitions, such as marriage and divorce, and on the effects of earlier life circumstances on later outcomes.

The latest project to be announced is the Birth Cohort Facility Project. This project has received a landmark £28.5 million commitment from the UK Government. The Birth Cohort Study will track the growth, development, health, well-being and social circumstances of over 90,000 UK babies and their families - from all walks of life – and will initially cover the period from pregnancy right through the early years of childhood. Recruitment of parents is due to begin in or around 2012.

The Study has been developed by a team comprising the UK’s leading biomedical and social scientists. Professor Carol Dezateux, Director of the MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and a consultant paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, will lead the Birth Cohort Study Scientific Leadership.

Sitting there listening to the presentation I was struck by the rather wonderful Google Chrome advert on the TVs at the moment that is built around the emails a Father sends his daughter over time, with the aim to one day to sit and look at them together. Its a wonderful advert and one that both recognises and promotes the longitudinal nature of the bond between children and thier parents in an ever changing world. 

This weekend I was witness to the dynamic nature of such relationships. I attended a family wedding. One of my nieces was getting married (I think I was that slightly eccentric Uncle from up North). It was a long over due opportunity to spend some time with my Mother and Father and some of my brothers and sisters. The marriage was held in the beautiful village of Bewdley, it was a lovely if somewhat over long wedding service (I am not sure I really like these new fangled hymns and the preacher man insisted on calling them songs).

The reception was held at Rock Hall – a wonderful example of an ecologically sound community venture. One side of its roof was covered in solar cells generating enough electricity to keep the building going at no cost.

The reception was great, but it was a dry reception, no alcohol allowed…

…but I guess each to their own.