University of Plymouth's Institute for Social, Policy and Enterprise Research (iSPER).

It is fair to say that the past six months have seen a succession of seismic shocks that have shaken the Western world to its core. Brexit, the triumph of Donald Trump in the US Presidential Election, and the growing momentum of the right wing in many other countries, have left many leaders wrong-footed and many more commentators asking ‘What’s next?’

But as nations come to terms with the shifting political, social and economic landscape, so it is perhaps creating opportunities for those outside the political elite to potentially influence the global agenda as never before.

Charles Dorr, Manager of the new Institute for Social, Policy and Enterprise Research (iSPER) at the University, said:

“If Brexit has shown us anything, it is that we have a divided community. In light of this, there is recognition that action is needed to address social inequality, relative poverty, stalling economic growth and community divisions at an international level as well as at home. Academic expertise can be hugely important in helping to meet those challenges, and if we are going to tackle them we need to do so through the kind of interdisciplinary collaborations that iSPER can foster.” 

Based within the Faculty of Business, iSPER joins the University’s seven existing research institutes, spanning the spectrum of marine and earth sciences, arts, health, medicine, pedagogy and sustainability. And it will share their core aims of encouraging collaborative research of the highest quality, building on existing areas of excellence highlighted by the Research Excellence Framework in 2014 and assisting in the delivery of research-led teaching.

Charles added:

“iSPER will seek to foster academic collaborations internally and externally, ensuring that when a national or international funding opportunity arises, the networks and support are already in place to meet the funder’s requirements. And this kind of approach has already proved successful in academics from across the University securing funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund.”

With its members drawn from fields including business, criminology, economics, government, law and tourism, the ambition for iSPER is that it can leverage its considerable expertise to achieve a measure of potential influence. And its founding research groups are aiming to build upon previous research successes and generate even greater impact. They are: 

  • Crime, Justice and Society
  • Maritime Logistics, Business and Policy
  • Markets, Innovation and Competition
  • People, Organisations and Work
  • Product and Service Value Chain Innovation through Advanced Technologies 
  • Responsible Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation. 

Professor Jingjing Xu, Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Business and iSPER’s Director, said: 

“We have had research centres in the faculty before but there has never been great synergy in terms of the collaborations we are pursuing. There has always been a lot of potential but it has not been maximised to the full. Having the institute and bringing academics all together under one umbrella gives us a means to do that, and creates a more enabling and facilitating research environment.” 

iSPER has been up and running behind the scenes for some time, but its public launch took place in November 2016. And plans are already being drawn up for a range of public events and networking sessions, designed to encourage academics to engage directly with each other, experts from other institutions and policy makers, businesses, charities, NGOs and other key influencers. 

Another of its key focuses will also be around providing support for individuals, to ensure there is assistance available to boost their work and profiles regardless of what stage they are at in their careers. 

Professor Xu added: “In order to be outstanding, researchers at any stage of their career – from PhD students to professors – need to be supported. The beauty of having an institute is that you can build a research environment to meet those needs, while creating something that facilitates new conversations and collaborations. It also gives us a brand with which to associate our research and to bring the excellence we have across many subjects under one umbrella.” 

Professor Nikolaos Tzokas, Dean of the Faculty of Business, added: 

“In many respects, the launch of iSPER is the final piece of a jigsaw. We have always had outstanding academics within the faculty conducting world-leading research, but perhaps without the coordinated support and encouragement to engage with a wider audience. The new institute provides that vehicle and will enable us to celebrate our current successes and ensure plenty more follow in the future.”