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University aims to lead the world in solving society’s problems

21 November 2014

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The University can lead the world in research to help solve some of society's most pressing problems.

That is the view of Professor Rick Delbridge, of Cardiff Business School, one of the senior academics behind the University's plans to build the world's first Social Science Research Park, known as SPARK.

Many leading research-intensive universities, including Cardiff, from around the globe are highlighting the vital role that social sciences and humanities (SSH) need to play in modern society.

They are signing a statement at Leiden in the Netherlands on 21 November 2014 which declares that investing in SSH disciplines is essential to addressing the fundamental problems facing the world.

Professor Delbridge, the University's Dean of Research, Innovation and Enterprise who is in Leiden as part of a delegation from the Russell Group of research intensive UK universities, said: "The social sciences are vital to help us understand how society can function more effectively in an increasingly interdependent world.

"The creation of the world's first Social Science Research Park gives Cardiff a wonderful opportunity to lead the way globally in this type of research.

"We are trying to create a collaborative environment bringing together social scientists, policy makers and practitioners for the type of innovation required to help meet the world's great challenges.

"The Leiden Declaration is clear that the type of work we are proposing is essential to address the fundamental problems facing the world.

"It has become apparent that having that type of impact requires an interdisciplinary approach in which social science plays a fundamental role."

Social science is described by the Economic and Social Research Council as "the study of society and the manner in which people behave and influence the world around us".

Maindy road model

Cardiff's £40m research park would be part of the University's new Innovation campus, which features plans for four major new buildings at a cost of around £300m.

SPARK would contribute to improving the economic, health and social wellbeing of society.

It would house researchers from across the University's three colleges, alongside key external research partners and other research stakeholders.

It would also host public events and use exhibitions and visual displays to encourage wider engagement.

A detailed business case is being put together and it is hoped the facility could be completed in 2017.

The idea for the Social Science Research Park was partly inspired by a blog post from Adam Price, Public Innovation lead for Innovation charity Nesta in Wales, who predicted in 2013 that universities would start building social science parks.

Mr Price, a former MP, said: "I'm delighted that Cardiff University is aiming to be the first in the world to create a Social Science Research Park.

"Bringing together people such as social scientists and policy makers in a single location could have a great impact on, for example, improving public services.

"This is an idea whose time has come, and the Leiden statement serves to support the importance of the social sciences and the humanities in making the world a better place."

The University has a sky-high reputation in many relevant academic disciplines including journalism, geography, law, management, psychology, accounting, sociology and education.

Examples of the University's work in this field includes the Violence and Society Research Group's development of a new approach to identifying violence hotspots and reducing incidents, with significant impact on late-night injuries and behaviour in city centres.

The work is now part of violence prevention strategy across the UK and has been implemented in more than 100 hospitals across Wales and England.

The group's research has had an impact around the world as other countries have sought to use the approach to reduce violence.

Last month, the University announced plans to invest £300m in four new buildings to help Cardiff become an engine for future prosperity, health and growth in Wales, the UK and the wider world.

Besides SPARK, the other proposals are:

  • an Innovation Centre to help start-up firms
  • a Translational Research Facility to turn academic research into applications in the real world
  • a Research Institute for Compound Semiconductor Technology

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