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St Mary's Research Strategy 2021-2028

In the one hundred and seventy years since St Mary’s University was founded to train six young men as teachers in Catholic schools, we have developed into a diverse and thriving community of nearly six thousand undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Having gained research degree awarding powers in 2021 and coming in the wake of our submission to REF2021, this new University Research Strategy will guide and inform the actions and decisions of St Mary’s in relation to research over the next seven years.

Our strategy is underpinned by, and consistent with, Saint John Henry Newman’s “Idea of a University”, whose vision lies at the heart of St Mary’s vision for education. This means that our research will continue to be characterised by a desire to promote human dignity and the common good. Our research will continue to contribute to the creation of knowledge and the understanding of moral and ethical questions, improving the individual and benefiting society. This aim will be realised through a wide range of research that improves health and wellbeing, informs professional practice and education, and promotes justice and inclusion.

Going forward, the impact of St. Mary’s research will be enhanced by means of a clear set of objectives that will allow us to develop the research skills of our colleagues and students, enrich our learning environment, promote positive change, and influence policy and practice locally, nationally, and internationally. Our research objectives and the framework for achieving them are laid out in our Research Strategy, which aims to create a research environment characterised by pedagogical and research excellence, inclusivity, and generosity of spirit founded upon collegiality, interdisciplinary research, and respect.

What is our research strategy aiming to achieve?

Looking forward - as we plan the next stage of our development as a university and strive to develop ourselves as a community of scholars that research and teach in line with Newman’s vision of a university - we have identified four key strategic objectives for research at St Mary’s:

  1. Enhance our external standing in areas of existing strength by undertaking research that is consistently recognised as being at least internationally excellent.
  2. Develop a critical mass of applied and impactful research which place St Mary’s in the heart of the community.
  3. Establish a thriving and vibrant internal research culture throughout the university.
  4. Produce research that is inclusive and diverse.

How do we achieve our objectives?

The structural core of St Mary’s new Research Strategy that will enable us to achieve our key strategic objectives will be provided by our concentration upon research activity in five Research Excellence Pillars (REPs). These Research Excellence Pillars are interdisciplinary fields of research that encompass our existing research strengths while including other, currently under-developed, research areas that we wish to nurture because they address important social challenges that align with St Mary’s vision, ethos, and values.   

As a Catholic foundation, St Mary’s takes seriously the necessity of serving the “social” or “common” good. As the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales stated in their Common Good document of 1996: “The general purpose of the Church’s social teaching is to contribute to the formation of conscience as a basis for specific action … (this teaching) … is a lived and living tradition” (CG 27). St Mary’s takes this formation of a “social conscience” seriously, emphasising the special dignity of the human person. As well as the creation of a social conscience in individuals the University stresses through its education the formation of the whole person: mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

In this pillar our colleagues’ research should embrace Catholic values and social justice, sustainability, and both the personal and common good. Colleagues at all levels of academic achievement and across disciplines including philosophical, theological, historical, psychological, sociological, and anthropological methodologies to work in a rich multi- and cross-disciplinary fashion to examine subjects such as:  

  • Theology and scripture
  • Meaning of truth and knowledge
  • Bioethics
  • Catholic social teaching/faith & society
  • Christian spirituality        
  • Catholic education
  • Inter-faith relations, peace, and reconciliation

In this pillar, colleagues from a range of disciplines will apply complementary methods, skill sets and research approaches to address contemporary challenges affecting health and wellbeing across all social groups. Such challenges and research subjects include, but are not limited to:

  • Addressing contemporary social issues affecting communities locally, nationally, and globally
  • Obesity
  • Ageing populations
  • Mental health
  • Engaging disadvantaged, peripheral communities (concerning issues such as race, gender, ethnicity, homelessness, mental illness)
  • Diet and physical activity
  • Ethics, faith, wellbeing, and physical activity.

Our colleagues will generate new knowledge and create original insight to enhance our understanding of factors that come to bear on these challenges and their impacts. We will then apply and make use of this knowledge and understanding to inform practical solutions and interventions as we strive to improve lives and lived experiences. The impacts of our research will be realised at multiple levels from the individual person, to within our local communities, as well as nationally and internationally, working with existing and new external partners and organisations, and making sure we contribute to ongoing national and international debates through active dissemination of our findings.

 Research colleagues working in this pillar will be focusing on three cross-disciplinary themes: Migration and Exploitation; Narratives of Identity; and Wellbeing. These themes form a focus for research into:

  • Different cultures, communities, and practices
  • Explorations of self, ‘otherness’ and belonging
  • The impact of mental, physical, and psychological health on the cohesion and strength of local and national communities
  • Innovation in development of methods and interventions to transform and enhance lives and everyday activities
  • Cross disciplinary engagement through the arts, humanities, theological and social sciences, and human sciences
  • The experiences of migrants whether they are settled residents in new countries or find themselves estranged, exiled, or exploited.

Our researchers will work in a cross-disciplinary environment involving history, creative writing, drama, film, literature, theology, and sociological studies to explore creative narratives including literature, historical texts, creative writing, and performance to articulate the anxieties of identity, belonging, culture, faith, and mental and physical health.

Professional practice and the potential for social impact lie at the heart of many areas at St Mary’s University, from Foundation Year to doctoral level studies. The overwhelming motivation in this pillar is to promote effective professional practice, underpinned by robust and relevant research evidence, to ensure positive social impact in a range of areas.

  • Applying evidence to understand and inform practice
  • Enhancing efficiency and effectiveness of professional practice through application of evidence (links to education, sport, allied health)
  • Informing and affecting organisational policy
  • Pedagogy
  • Research-teaching-learning
  • Innovation and application of technology
  • Sport performance science (and application beyond sport to broader occupational performance)
  • Education and pedagogy
  • Education and inclusion
  • Communications and ethics
  • Catholic education
  • Drama practice.

Colleagues working within this pillar will be involved inseveral different fields of research, links between the School of Education and the Faculty of Sport, Technology and Health Sciences will be particularly important. These will include but not be limited to; the professional learning of those involved in the fields of education and allied health, innovative approaches to pedagogy (e.g. digital), applied sport and exercise sciences, and Catholic education.

Social justice is that form of justice by which the common good of the whole society is promoted, enabling all individuals and groups in society to reach fulfilment and live a good and virtuous life free from political, economic, and religious oppression and unjust discrimination. Our colleagues working in this research pillar will be involved inseveral different fields of research, including but not limited to:

  • Education and healthcare for those suffering severe challenges, such as refugees and trafficked people
  • Environmental concerns
  • Trafficking and modern slavery
  • Informing and investing in communities through knowledge exchange
  • Identification of key social and environmental priorities locally and nationally/internationally
  • Compassion and care in life and death.

This pillar will involve those working in Faculty of Business and Law and the Faculty of Education, Theology and the Arts, along with those with those working in the Faculty of Sport, Technology and Health Sciences, especially in relation to issues such as ethics in sport (including drug taking) and the interface of allied health and ethics. They will develop applied research, working with stakeholders such as charities, NGOs, other academic institutions, religious groups, think tanks and government organisations in areas where social justice is absent, under threat, or could be better promoted.

The importance of ‘global research centres’

We expect that there will be a significant movement from research clusters and groups to research centres, which will enhance the development of the inter- and multi-disciplinary work that is at the core of our objectives. We aim to internationalise our research, impact case studies and outputs, creating “global research centres” that draw strength from our membership of the Catholic Institutions Group. 

How does planning for the next REF work within our new Research Strategy?

Based upon what we have learned in the recent REF cycle, we have identified the strategic objectives for a successful REF submission in 2028. These are:

  • Early identification of the Units of Assessment where submission will be possible. 
  • Early identification of potential Impact Case Studies (ICS).
  • Creating a support structure that helps our research colleagues develop ICS over the entire REF cycle, allowing them to produce well-constructed drafts in good time.

To help us achieve these strategic goals we are aiming to:

  • Identify our credible research areas early in the REF cycle, by producing detailed Faculty and institute research plans by March 2022. Doing so will enable us to identify the abilities of individual research areas to produce sufficient high-quality research and to generate research impact for REF.
  • Identify and develop potential (and credibly achievable) ICS from an early point in the REF cycle by using the annual assessment process to identify potential research activity which may have impact.
  • When we identify such research projects, we will then actively support the research colleagues involved in identifying the impact hoped for, the research base, timeline, the relevant Unit of Assessment, and required resources for support with regular six-monthly progress and support meetings.

What about our sabbatical policy and strategy?

A new sabbatical policy and strategy is being developed and will, of course, be subject to consultation with managers and colleagues at St Mary’s. Our aim is for the new policy to enable the following objectives: 

  • Develop academic employee skills, knowledge, and expertise, in line with the strategic aims of the University.
  • Help us to retain our academic employees as we support their development.
  • Provide a fair and reasonable utilisation of St Mary’s resources.
  • Provide the Faculty and Institutes with meaningful oversight of this policy to help with financial and strategic planning.

How will this affect tariff allocation in the Workload Model (WLM)?

Considering our research objectives, our proposal is to review the tariff allocation as follows:

  • Continue to operate the current 4 percent allocation to facilitate scholarly work.
  • Maintain the 20 per cent tariff, as per the Code of Practice for REF 2021, for all of those who have been identified as research intensive.
  • Incorporate Personal Research Plans into all colleagues’ annual appraisals.
  • Help those colleagues who aspire to advance to research intensive status by replacing the 10% allocation in the WLM with a temporary percentage allocation for a specified period of 18/24 months. The aim will be to help colleagues to work towards research active status in this period. If the required criteria are not achieved in this time, then colleagues will return to a four percent allocation for a minimum period of 12 months.
  • Directors, Research Subject Leads, and senior Faculty colleagues will be responsible for approving these allocations based on the meeting of certain criteria.