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Universities win funding for local improvement projects

De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) and the University of Leicester have been awarded £171,000 for an innovative project working in partnerships with local groups to gain insight and improve services in core areas including education, health, and environmental sustainability.

Funding for the initiative was awarded by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), following a competitive bidding round, and is part of a new pilot Local Acceleration Fund (LAF) totalling nearly £1 million. The progressive Leicester initiative secured the highest award.

Leicester city

The project forms one of 11 landmark pilot projects in the UK, which will support close collaboration between researchers and local authorities, charities and businesses and will address policy priorities that make a real difference to local areas, including net-zero, local economic growth and levelling up.  

Professor Katie Normington, Vice-Chancellor at DMU, said: “This work will mean that we can help people into jobs, support businesses to cut carbon emissions and help companies recover from the effects of the pandemic.  

“We’re delighted to be working with our partners at the University of Leicester to create meaningful and positive change for people across the city.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester said: “We are delighted to win significant project funding from the ESRC to initiate and develop a range of pilot projects. It’s a fantastic achievement and clearly demonstrates the potential for further extending the excellent collaborative working between the University of Leicester, De Montfort University and our civic and community partners.

“The University was established as a result of the commitment and vital support of local people, and in our Centenary year we continue to be dedicated to our civic mission and working in partnership to achieve positive change for our local communities.”

Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of ESRC said the Leicester funding was one of 11 pilot schemes that were being funded. She added: “These projects demonstrate the critical role that collaboration and co-creation play in bringing together complex local challenges with social science expertise in order to make a difference in local communities.  

“The Local Acceleration Fund will inform ESRC’s next steps in supporting social scientists to collaborate with local stakeholders, including local authorities, charities and businesses, through people, partnerships and research.”

The universities will work with local stakeholders in five priority policy areas, including: Education and skills; Business and the economy; Health and wellbeing; Environmental sustainability; and Arts, culture and heritage. The collaborations will support stakeholders to develop local action plans to improve evidence-informed policy making against each of these areas. The six-month pilot project will complete in summer 2022.

Many of UK’s biggest challenges, including net zero, supporting innovation, levelling-up and addressing inequalities, require local intelligence, evidence and action. ESRC is committed to working with and supporting collaboration between social scientists and local policy makers to address these challenges and increase the availability of evidence to help shape local solutions that improve outcomes for people and places.

This fund highlights the critical role of the social sciences in understanding and addressing a variety of complex local challenges. The work builds on a portfolio of research and innovation activity funded by ESRC which aims to address inequalities in the UK. Learnings from the fund will inform ESRC’s future approach to investing in locally focussed projects that enhance opportunities for collaboration and improve access to research, evidence, data and social science expertise to inform local policy making.

Posted on Monday 31st January 2022

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