Catch-up with the latest news and insights on education in the UK.


Cranfield joins state-of-the-art R&D centre for next-generation aerostructures
Oct 2021

Cranfield University has joined Spirit Europe’s Aerospace Innovation Centre (AIC) as an academic partner at the newly opened research and development facility in Prestwick, Scotland.


The AIC was officially opened by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and has been established as a centre of excellence in advanced materials, digital technologies and processes where Spirit will collaborate with industry and academic partners.


The circa £30 million centre will explore innovative design techniques for products such as aircraft wings, using lightweight composite material technology to reduce flight emissions and lower costs, and is already facilitating more than 20 industry and academic collaborations.


Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, said: “Congratulations to Spirit AeroSystems on the opening of this very impressive facility which will help to advance technologies and capabilities to develop next-generation aerospace components and assembly processes. Cranfield is honoured to be a partner with Spirit and we look forward to working together in the AIC to innovate, train and develop skills for the design and digital manufacturing of current and future aircraft.”


First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “As well as improving the efficiency of aircraft parts, and the way they are manufactured, this facility has the potential to enable growth for industry-leading aerospace innovations and create more high-value manufacturing jobs over the next decade.”


Scott McLarty, Senior Vice-President and General Manager - Airbus Programs and Business Jets, Spirit AeroSystems, and alumnus of Cranfield University, said: “For true innovation to occur, we need a diverse range of ideas and collaboration from a number of areas across the spectrum of research and development. As one of the UK’s leading Aerospace companies, Spirit Europe is proud to establish a collaborative space where we, with our partners in industry and education, will work together to develop new technologies that are competitive and sustainable for aerospace platforms of the future.”


The 90,000 square foot innovation centre on the Spirit Europe campus in Prestwick is capable of manufacturing components of up to 20 metres in length. It features 55,000 square feet of

manufacturing space, a materials lab, and office and conference space to accommodate over 200 people.


The AIC has been opened with investment from Spirit Europe of circa £25 million together with almost £5 million grant funding from Scottish Enterprise.

Tackling loneliness with mixed reality technology
Sep 2021

Scientists are exploring whether off-the-shelf technology that brings together the virtual and physical world can be used to tackle the growing problem of loneliness in the UK.

The team are assessing the suitability and feasibility of devices that could, for example, display live holograms of friends and family in a living room to recreate the social interactions that many hold so dearly.

Located hundreds of miles away from each other, friends and relatives could experience a connectedness much closer to real-life interactions, the team say, whether it be in their own home or a care setting.

The project is an attempt at tackling chronic loneliness, with around 1.5m peopled aged 50 and over in the UK reported to be suffering from the condition. A recent UK government white paper suggested that loneliness could be costing private sector employers up to £2.5 billion a year due to absence and productivity losses.

This growing problem has been made worse by the numerous lockdowns imposed throughout the coronavirus pandemic over the last 18 months, severing the physical ties between friends and relatives even further.

Thanks to new funding from UKRI, the Cardiff University team will look to develop a software prototype that will include a virtual reality headset, worn by a user, and a telepresence robot that can beam images and sounds of the friends and relatives back to the user in various shapes and forms, such as a hologram.

The researchers describe the technology as ‘mixed reality’ and liken the experience to playing the popular smartphone game Pokémon Go.

“You can imagine an elderly relative sitting in their living room with a cup of tea and interacting with their relatives as if they were sat right in front of them,” said the project’s principal investigator Dr Daniel J. Finnegan, from Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science and Informatics.

“This technology could be used to render holograms of people that could literally be hundreds or thousands of miles away and allow people to chat or play games with one another as if they were in the same physical place. Our aim is to support community building activities and reduce the growing loneliness epidemic.

The first stages of the project will involve gathering information from potential end-users, with both price and technology being potential barriers for the elderly.

Dr Finnegan plans to work alongside charities and other organizations to develop the product and help role it out to stakeholders, with a particular emphasis on developing training programs for carers to equip them with necessary IT skills required to engage with the technology.

“In a world dominated by social media, where we have so many tools and technologies to connect with another, loneliness remains a huge problem,” Dr Finnegan continued.

“This, I believe, could be linked to the shallow experience of connectedness these technologies provide. Connectedness is more than just being connected – it requires a shared understanding, the chance to socialize, agency and independence, and to share meaningful experiences and interact with other human beings.

“By using technology in a smart, meaningful, and research-driven way, this project aims to reduce feelings of emotional and social loneliness and isolation and go some way to addressing the growing problem in the UK.”

The funding, awarded through UKRI, was part of The Healthy Longevity Global Competition, with over 500 awards worth £62,500 each issued globally as seed funding to advance innovative ideas.

‘First-of-its-kind’ levy-funded custom-made executive development programme promises to transform businesses’ leadership pipelines
Sep 2021

Cranfield University has launched a first-of-its-kind, custom-made executive development programme addressing management and leadership skills shortage at scale, eligible to be funded by the apprenticeship levy.

Designed to develop the talent of companies' whole leadership pipelines, the Senior Leader Executive Programme is an in-work level 7 apprenticeship tailored to the strategic needs and agenda of individual businesses and flexed around their requirements.

The 20-month programme aims to equip 'accidental' leaders and experienced managers alike with the knowledge, skills and capabilities they need to help shape and drive forward their company's strategic agenda.

As well as achieving a Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship, participants can also gain a Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Level 7 Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership Practice, and be granted Chartered Manager Fellow status (CMgr FCMI).

Leading global professional services firm Aon was the first to sign up to the new programme.

Julie Hyett, UK and Ireland Talent Lead at Aon, said: "As a firm, we are absolutely committed to developing our colleagues across all levels of the business, and we're keen to make use of our apprenticeship levy funds to help us to do that.

"Cranfield's reputation for excellence in executive education is unrivalled, and we are delighted to be able to draw on their expertise through such a wide-ranging development programme. The depth and capacity that Cranfield brings will allow us to access the best of both worlds. We will benefit from Cranfield's world-class leadership development, which is absolutely focused on the real and the tangible – the day-to-day reality of our firm, its operational challenges and our strategic objectives."

The Cranfield Senior Leader Executive Programme is a 15-month apprenticeship, delivered via a combination of live online masterclasses, face-to-face and recorded sessions, that is followed by a five-month end point assessment.

Throughout the programme, learners are expected to role model, reflect and sustain the leadership, coaching and mentoring practices advocated on the programme, and to enhance their commercial acumen by compiling an applied in-work experience portfolio and developing new strategic business propositions that create business value and tangible returns.

Professor David Oglethorpe, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Cranfield School of Management, said: "We are really excited about the potential of this new programme. It has been designed to be lean, yet transformative; to be fast-paced and acutely targeted, giving organisations maximum return on their investment.

"Having worked with Aon before in taking some of its high-potential employees through our Business and Strategic Leadership MSc, I am not surprised the firm was the first to sign up to this new programme. Aon is very future-focused, has bold plans for what it wants to achieve in the coming years, and admirable determination to deliver on those plans through strategic investment in developing the capabilities of its colleagues.

"We are looking forward to working with the Aon team in a broader context over the coming months to enhance the transformation we are already seeing taking place within the firm."

The Senior Leader Executive Programme is led by Cranfield Executive Development and draws on the expertise of faculty from Cranfield School of Management, one of an elite group of triple-accredited business schools and consistently ranked as one of the top 30 business schools in Europe for executive development.

New heritage centre showcases 6,000 years of West Cardiff history
Sep 2021

A community project which has helped people connect with the rich history of their local area is celebrating the completion of a new £650,000 community and visitor attraction.

The Hidden Hillfort Community Heritage Centre is the culmination of a ten-year programme of community initiatives led by the Caerau and Ely Rediscovering (CAER) Heritage Project, a partnership between Cardiff University, Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE), local schools, residents and heritage partners.

Attended by First Minister Mark Drakeford in his capacity as the Member of Senedd for Cardiff West, the opening showcased the new state-of-the-art building and surrounding garden with volunteer-led tours running throughout the day and a VR experience and archaeological finds on display.

A new prehistoric-themed children’s playground, funded by Wales and West Housing and Cardiff Council, is also now open to families.

Local involvement, co-creation and community participation

The centre, a redeveloped gospel hall on Church Road, will act as a gateway for visitors to discover the 6,000-year history of Caerau and Ely – two vibrant Cardiff communities which face some significant social and economic challenges.

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, it will be a place for volunteers, local residents, school pupils and visitors to explore and celebrate Caerau Hillfort alongside heritage professionals, artists, academics and university students.

Over the coming months, the project team will plan heritage trails, art installations, information and signage around the monument, heritage themed gardens, a community fridge and heritage food projects to address local challenges including food poverty.

This kind of local involvement, co-creation and community participation has always been at the heart of the CAER Heritage project and Co-director Dr Oliver Davis hopes the Centre will act as a catalyst to get more people involved.

Dr Davis, who is a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: “The visitor centre is the culmination of ten years of work by thousands of participants, many being school children, volunteers and residents from the local area.

“Over that time we’ve worked together to co-create geophysical surveys, museum exhibitions, adult learners’ courses, art installations, creative writing, dance performances, banner processions, history projects, films and heritage trails.

“We want to involve those same people in our discussions about the centre too, so we can ensure that it best serves them and their communities going forward.”

Dave Horton, Co-Director of Action in Caerau and Ely, added: “We’re building on years of research that we’ve carried out with local people through the CAER Heritage project, based on this amazing historical site.

“And the idea of the Centre is for it to really put this place on the map and provide a gateway to the monument, so that first and foremost local people can access it, understand it and embrace it as an important part of their community and an important part of their story.

“But also we want it to run as a community centre as well. So we want it to be a space that local people can use for all kinds of activities and projects that help benefit their community and also a place where they can build on their skills, energy and enthusiasm so they can make changes they want to see in the local area.”

Breaking down barriers to higher education

CAER Heritage opens up new educational opportunities for people of all ages including scholarships schemes and skills development at Cardiff University. The project team hopes that the new Centre will become a hub to further break down barriers to higher education for local volunteers like Doug, 60, who lives in Caerau and joined the project after a near-miss car crash.

He said: “We’d been involved in an accident and I was having a lot of bad dreams and didn’t want to go out. I kept having thoughts about what would’ve happened if it’d been a few inches closer. I still don’t like driving past the spot where it happened.”

A full-time carer for his wife, Doug found the project helped him get out of the house again and into the surrounding woodlands.

“Once this took off, I just had a bit more interest. It’s a nice place to come and work and it keeps me fit too because I hike up here. I like to get out into the woods and help get them tidied up. To be part of this big project is fantastic. It’s a good atmosphere and basically we’re a community,” he said.

Participating in the project also reignited Doug’s love for history, which led him onto the Exploring the Past pathway programme at Cardiff University.

“I spent most of my time at school sat at the back messing about, so getting onto the pathway to a degree course has been the main change for me. I doubt that I would have got to this point on my own,” he said.

With the opening of the visitor centre and heritage trails underway, Doug wants to see the woods developed next, to create jobs for the local community.

“I’d like to set up a wood yard as it would’ve been back in Roman times to make simple things like fences. You weave them out of branches, so basically it would be somewhere that would produce these and use them on the site. It would go with the theme and the general atmosphere of the place,” Doug explained. Find out more about the CAER Heritage Project.

New help for women returning to running after giving birth
Sep 2021

Researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University are the first to help women return to running following childbirth using recovery methods traditionally used in sport.

The team of academic and clinical experts at Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences joined forces with Swansea University to provide a unique understanding of how medical practitioners can best support women in returning to running following childbirth.

This pioneering research has resulted in the publication of a set of evidence-informed key messages to assist medical practitioners, such as GPs, midwives and physiotherapists, working with postpartum women.

The research team surveyed 881 postpartum women via an online questionnaire and found four main factors influencing a woman’s return to running journey:

Running during pregnancy positively influences the likelihood of returning to running following childbirth

Suffering from the sensation of vaginal heaviness reduced the likelihood of returning to running

A high ‘fear of movement’ reduced the likelihood of returning to running

A high running volume before pregnancy increased the odds of returning to pre-pregnancy running levels.

‘Fear of movement’ is seen widely across the sporting spectrum following major injuries – with athletes apprehensive to carry out certain movements in case it results in pain or compromises their recovery. This is the first time this concept has been applied to postpartum care.

The research, which has been published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, also suggests that fear of movement and vaginal heaviness can be addressed in clinical practice.

Reader in Human Movement and Sports Medicine at Cardiff Met, Dr Izzy Moore led the study and said: "Following childbirth, women may struggle to return to exercise which can significantly affect both maternal and child health.

"Our research is therefore important as it shows how the traditional concept of childbirth recovery simply being ‘natural’ requiring little support should be replaced with a sports recovery model. Furthermore, our research shows us that mothers should be supported to undertake active recoveries following childbirth.

"This new way of thinking benefits women because in essence, returning to an active lifestyle following childbirth can have long-term health benefits for both mother and child.

"Ultimately, our message is clear – health professionals should educate, support and empower women to remain physically active during pregnancies, where it is safe to do so."

Physiotherapist Gráinne Donnelly was clinical lead for the project and added: "The clinical-academic collaboration enabled us to make our research clinically relevant and meaningful. By ensuring elements consistently seen in clinical practice were considered, we were able to identify that fear of movement was present in the postpartum population and vaginal heaviness seems to influence return to running, rather than perineal traumas.

"Our findings are directly relevant and transferrable into clinical practice and reinforce the importance of evaluating each woman as an individual and crucially, considering physical and mental factors which influence their return to exercise following childbirth.

"Our research highlights the need for a proactive rather than reactive approach to postpartum care. We need to ensure all women are supported during and after pregnancy to lessen the risk of these modifiable experiences."

Steph Dunlop lives in Derry, Northern Ireland and worked with physiotherapist Gráinne Donnelly on her postpartum returning to running. Steph said: "I have two children – a three-year-old girl and an eleven-month-old boy and worked with Gráinne after both births. The return to running clinical guidelines were published in between my kids, so with my youngest I felt so much more prepared to return to running.

"After the birth of my youngest child, I set myself a goal to rehabilitate and lose a bit of weight with lower impact work but I found that coming up to six months postpartum I started having a heaviness type feeling and panicked about having a prolapse.

"I initially visited Gráinne for my postpartum check at about seven weeks where she set a programme of tummy exercises to regain strength and graded impact to get me ready for running. If I hadn’t seen Gráinne I think I would have been a lot more conservative and slower with my rehabilitation."

First ever cross-Channel hybrid electric flight lands at Cranfield
Sep 2021

The first flight by a hybrid electric aircraft across the English Channel has landed at Cranfield Airport in Bedfordshire.


VoltAero’s Cassio 1 demonstrator aircraft flew from Calais in northern France to the airport owned by Cranfield University and used electric propulsion for its take-off and landing.


During its stopover at Cranfield, on the way to the ACE21 Air Charter Expo, Cassio 1 was also presented to University faculty and students.


Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, said: "It’s an honour to have this first cross-Channel flight by a hybrid electric aircraft land at Cranfield, and congratulations to the VoltAero team on this milestone achievement. It has also been a fantastic opportunity for our staff and students to see hybrid technology working in practice, which offers another step towards greener aviation.”


Rob Abbott, Director of Aviation Operations, Cranfield Airport, said: “We’re very proud to welcome VoltAero’s Cassio aircraft to the airport. As a fully-functional research airport, we are excited to engage with all types of manned and unmanned aircraft as we look to play our part in developing the aircraft, airport and airspace management systems of the future.”


VoltAero CEO and Chief Technology Officer Jean Botti added: “The stopover at Cranfield University introduced Cassio to the next generation of engineers, programme managers and decision-makers who are to lead the future of electric aviation. This Channel crossing clearly shows how VoltAero’s team has progressed in advancing the Cassio program through its development phase for a planned certification in 2023.”


The Cassio 1 demonstrator aircraft has flown more than 4,900 kilometres while validating VoltAero’s electric-hybrid power module, which combines electric motors with an internal combustion engine.


The module’s electric motors enable Cassio to perform nearly-silent take-offs and landings, while the internal combustion engine serves as a range extender by recharging batteries once Cassio is airborne, as well as providing a secondary source of propulsion and for backup.


Also in attendance for the landing was the team from KinectAir, a software aviation company focused on regional air mobility who work in partnership with VoltAero.


KinectAir is building a smartphone app that will enable people to order a direct flight from the nearest airfield to take them wherever they wish to go. Artificial intelligence software will continuously optimise the air transportation supply and passenger demand across KinectAir’s operated network of aircraft.


Nick Rogers, Chief Commercial Officer, KinectAir, said: “VoltAero is at the forefront of hybrid electric propulsion in conventional take-off and landing aircraft, which is the emerging leader for making regional air travel greener. We place these aircraft on a network and put the power to summon them in the hands of ordinary passengers. It will open up access to more sustainable air travel and is an exciting partnership for the future of transport connectivity.”

Gut and heart signals affect how we see ourselves
Sep 2021

Weak internal connections linked to body shame and weight preoccupation

New research has discovered that the strength of the connection between our brain and internal organs is linked to how we feel about our appearance.

Published in the journal Cortex, the study is the first to investigate, and first to identify, the association between body image and the brain’s processing of internal signals that occur unconsciously.

Carried out by a team of psychologists and neuroscientists at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), the study found that adults whose brains are less efficient at detecting these internal messages are more likely to experience body shame and weight preoccupation. 

This research could have therapeutic implications for people suffering with conditions in which body image plays a significant role. For example, the unconscious signals could be made conscious. Further research could even be applied to the clinic as it may be the case that brain responses to gut signals could indicate a predisposition to eating disorders.

The study participants – a group of healthy UK adults – first took part in four body image assessments to measure their feelings of body appreciation, body functionality appreciation, body shame, and weight preoccupation.

The researchers then carried out measurements of the participants’ internal signals. Some of the messages from the heart and gut are processed at an unconscious level and the nervous system interprets these signals to provide the brain with continuously updated information about the body’s internal state. 

The strength of the connection between the gut and the brain was measured by recording the electrical activity of both regions at the same time. The researchers also measured brain responses to heartbeats. 

They found that weaker brain responses to the gut and heart were both significantly associated with greater levels of body shame and weight preoccupation amongst the participants.

Senior author Dr Jane Aspell, Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“We experience our body both from the inside and out: we can be aware of how our skin and limbs look, but also of how hungry we feel or how strongly our heart is beating during exercise. The brain also continuously processes internal signals that we are not conscious of.

“We found that when the brain is less responsive to these implicit signals from inside the body, individuals are more likely to hold negative views about their external bodily appearance. It may be that when the brain has a weaker connection to the internal body, the brain puts more emphasis on the external body and so appearance becomes much more important for self-evaluation.”


Lead author Dr Jennifer Todd, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“Our research could have implications for those experiencing negative body image, which can have a serious impact on people’s lives. 

“The gut and heart signal measurements used in our study could potentially act as a biomarker to help identify, or even predict, negative body image and associated conditions, such as eating disorders. Additionally, by training people to become more aware of internal sensations, it might be possible to amplify these unconscious signals.  

“We need to understand why some brains are better at detecting these internal signals than others. We expect it is partly due to differences in neuro-anatomical connections between the brain and internal organs, and this will be the subject of future research.”


Meanwhile, Dr Jane Aspell will be speaking about her research on the body and sense of self in a talk at the British Science Festival 2021, 7-11 September hosted by the British Science Association at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU). The talk will explore research on out of body experiences (OBEs), and she will share case studies from neurological patients. 

Dr Aspell’s work investigates what happens in the brain during an OBE and she will present evidence that these are caused by abnormal functioning in parts of the brain that process and combine signals from our bodies. This research on neurological patients sheds light on how the healthy brain generates the experience of one’s self, and what happens when that construction temporarily goes ‘wrong’.

Discover why crows and ravens rule the roost
Aug 2021

British Science Festival event will focus on the incredible world of corvids

Dr Claudia Wascher will head into the wild (of Chelmsford) during the British Science Festival to share her remarkable research into crows and ravens, two of the smartest birds around.

Dr Wascher, a behavioural ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), will be Talking With Birds in Bell Meadow Park in Chelmsford on Tuesday, 7 September, in an event focusing on how these intelligent birds socialise and communicate.

Both crows and ravens, which along with rooks, jackdaws, magpies and jays are part of the corvid family of birds, display complex behaviours such as “delayed gratification” – the ability to wait for a better offer than the one in front of them – and they are also aware of when they are being treated unfairly.

Dr Wascher carried out the first ever study looking at how these birds behave when they are treated unequally.

When asked to exchange a token for either their favourite food (cheese) or a less exciting option (grapes), the crows and ravens stopped cooperating if they saw other birds receive a reward without exchanging their token or if they saw another bird receive cheese at the same time as they were given a grape.

Dr Wascher believes that this understanding of fairness and cooperation has helped corvids evolve into highly sociable birds. Some corvids such as jackdaws live in large groups, while crows typically live in family units.  And Dr Wascher has also found that the size of their family group has a direct impact on their health.

study published in 2019 discovered that more sociable crows, living in larger groups, are generally healthier birds. Rather than large social groups increasing stress levels for the individuals, as is typically thought, the results of Dr Wascher’s six-year study confirmed her belief that crows enjoy being sociable and are happier, and therefore healthier, in larger groups.

Dr Wascher, Associate Professor of Biology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“Crows are incredibly sociable, and our study discovered that those with the strongest social bonds contained fewer parasites.  Physiological stress can dampen the immune system of birds, so to find that birds in larger family groups were healthier indicates that social interaction actually reduces their stress levels. 

“Thanks to their incredible intelligence, corvids are the most fascinating animals to work with.  In a recent study carried out at the University of Cambridge, the researchers performed sleight of hand magic tricks to six jays.  For two of the three tricks performed, the jays weren’t fooled while the 80 human participants were!

“In previous research I’ve also shown how crows have a long-term memory for recalling social information, such as the calls of others, while other biologists have found that ravens have the ability to remember social relationships over a period of years.  Corvids are some of the most intelligent creatures on earth and I’m looking forward to explaining more of their incredible talents at the British Science Festival.”
Housebuilder funds climate study into future of home construction
Aug 2021

Housebuilder funds climate study into future of home construction

Vistry Group, a top five national housebuilder, is funding research at the University of Exeter to explore the impact of climate change on homes and housebuilding in the future.

The analysis will look at two climate-related risk scenarios – a rise of 2°C and 4°C - to understand the implications of rises in temperatures. The results will influence the way future houses are built, the materials used, and how they are powered.

Alex Roberts, group sustainability manager at Vistry, said: “We are delighted to work with the University of Exeter, which carries out world-leading research on climate change, to explore these scenarios. This climate analysis will enable us to confidently make the right decisions going forward to the benefit of all our stakeholders. These meaningful results will help us identify the risks and opportunities of future changes, both in terms of physical climate impacts and policy, so that we are well-prepared, innovative and can communicate our strategy and direction in a clear way.”

It’s likely that all large companies will soon be required to complete climate change risk assessments. Issues will include people’s exposure to heat, the way materials react to hotter temperatures, what the future power supply will look like and increased likelihood of flooding and extreme weather, as well as changes in policy and expectations of customers. A first step is to undertake a scenario analysis to help understand the impact of a 2°C and also 4°C rise in temperature but ultimately the aim is to support carbon neutral homes by 2030.

Dr Matt Eames and Dr Peter Melville-Shreeve from the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the University of Exeter, are leading the research. As well as the climate scenarios they will also be looking further at flood risks and the overheating potential of standard house types.

Matt said: “This scenario analysis is crucial for determining how our houses need to evolve in the future. It is exciting to work on something where we will see the real-world impact in a comparatively short time.”

Peter added: “Challenges such as flooding and drought continue to rise up the agenda as climate change impacts are realised. Understanding the potential scenarios we are facing is the first step necessary to help us design the flood resilient developments of the future.”

Graham Prothero, chief operating officer at Vistry, said the housebuilding industry, including the new Future Homes Task Force, would gain from Vistry’s work with the university. The task force brings together representatives from across all the sectors that shape new homes, including the government, housebuilders, utility providers, material suppliers and environmental groups.

“A new Future Homes Task Force has been set-up to ensure housebuilding is aligned to the UK's net-zero target,” Graham said. “Meeting the ambitions set out by the task force requires a new approach and cross-sector collaboration.

“This research won’t just help us at Vistry, the results will be fully open so that all housebuilders can benefit. It is the first step in what we hope will be a longer-term research partnership.”

Vistry focuses its efforts in sustainability across all aspects of its strategy, with a particular focus on three key areas – its people, operations, and homes and communities. The housebuilder this year committed to setting out a roadmap to delivering zero carbon homes and to implement science-based targets for carbon reduction. This is supported by a dedicated sustainability team to coordinate and control current and future performance across the Group.

EXPERT COMMENT: Paying with a palm print? We're victims of our own psychology in making privacy decisions
Aug 2021

With reports that Amazon is offering customers credit in exchange for using their handprints to pay at Amazon's stores, what are the impacts of using our biometric data for everyday purchases? Professor Pam Briggs, Research Chair in Applied Psychology at Northumbria University, writes for The Conversation, outlining the complex issues involved in giving up your biometric data to another party and suggests we should be wary of being offered incentives to do so.

The online retail giant Amazon has moved from our screens to our streets, with the introduction of Amazon grocery and book stores. With this expansion came the introduction of Amazon One – a service that lets customers use their handprint to pay, rather than tapping or swiping a card. According to recent reports, Amazon is now offering promotional credit to users who enroll.

In the UK we’re quickly becoming used to biometric-based identification. Many of us use a thumbprint or facial recognition to access our smartphones, authorise payments or cross international borders.

Using a biometric (part of your body) rather than a credit card (something you own) to make a purchase might offer a lot more convenience for what feels like very little cost. But there are several complex issues involved in giving up your biometric data to another party, which is why we should be wary of companies such as Amazon incentivising us to use biometrics for everyday transactions.

On the benefits side, you’re never without your biometric identifier -– your face, hand or finger travel with you. Biometrics are pretty hard to steal (modern fingerprint systems typically include a “liveness” test so that no attacker would be tempted to chop a finger off or make latex copies). They’re also easy to use -– gone are the problems of remembering multiple passwords to access different systems and services.

What about the costs? You don’t have many hands –- and you can’t get a new one –- so one biometric will have to serve as an entry point to multiple systems. That becomes a real problem if a biometric is hacked.

Biometrics can also be discriminatory. Many facial recognition systems fail ethnic minorities (because the systems have been trained with predominantly white faces. Fingerprint systems may fail older adults, who have thinner skin and less marked whorls, and all systems would fail those with certain disabilities – arthritis, for example, could make it difficult to yield a palm print.

Who should we trust?

A key issue for biometrics “identity providers” is that they can be trusted. This means that they will keep the data secure and will be “proportional” in their use of biometrics as a means of identification. In other words, they will use biometrics when it is necessary – say, for security purposes – but not simply because it seems convenient.

The UK government is currently consulting on a new digital identity and attributes trust framework where firms can be certified to offer biometric and other forms of identity management services.

As the number of daily digital transactions we make grows, so does the need for simple, seamless authentication, so it is not surprising that Amazon might want to become a major player in this space. Offering to pay for you to use a biometric sign-in is a quick means of getting you to choose Amazon as your trusted identity provider … but are you sure you want to do that?

Privacy paradox

Unfortunately we’re victims of our own psychology in this process. We will often say we value our privacy and want to protect our data, but then, with the promise of a quick reward, we will simply click on that link, accept those cookies, login via Facebook, offer up that fingerprint and buy into that shiny new thing.

Researchers have a name for this: the privacy paradox. In survey after survey, people will argue that they care deeply about privacy, data protection and digital security, but these attitudes are not supported in their behaviour. Several explanations exist for this, with some researchers arguing that people employ a privacy calculus to assess the costs and benefits of disclosing particular information.

The problem, as always, is that certain types of cognitive or social bias begin to creep into this calculus. We know, for example, that people will underestimate the risks associated with things they like and overestimate the risks associated with things they dislike (something known as the “affect heuristic”).

As a consequence, people tend to share more personal data than they should, and the amount of such data in circulation grows exponentially. The same is true for biometrics. People will say that only trusted organisations should hold biometric data, but then go on to give their biometrics up with a small incentive. In my own research, I’ve linked this behavioural paradox to the fact that security and privacy are things we need to do, but they don’t give us any joy, so our motivation to act is low.

Any warnings about the longer-term risks of taking the Amazon shilling might be futile, but I leave you with this: your biometrics don’t just confirm your identity, they are more revealing than that. They say something very clearly about ethnicity and age, but may also unknowingly reveal information about disability or even mood (in the example of, say, a voice biometric).

Biometric analysis can be done without permission (state regulations permitting) and, in some cases, at scale. China leads the way in the use of face recognition to identify individuals in a crowd, even when wearing masks. Exchanging a palm print for the equivalent of a free book may seem like a vastly different thing, but it is the thin end of the biometric wedge.

University’s mini-lecture series scoops bronze award in national education award
Jul 2021

The University of Chester has been recognised once again for innovation in education and marketing at the 2021 HEIST Awards.

For the second time this academic year, The Kitchen Sessions – a bite-size series of lectures designed to help school and college students applying to university – have been celebrated, scooping the Bronze award in the Best Value category at this year’s event.

When the pandemic hit last year, the University wanted to support not just its current students, but also prospective ones as they made their all-important university choices.

Academic staff worked quickly to move their teaching online and worked with the University’s Marketing and Recruitment (MRA) team to produce The Kitchen Sessions.

These wide-ranging online lectures were aimed at prospective students to help them feel more connected and experience the benefits of digital learning.

The Heist judges had a real job on their hands awarding this category offering two ‘Highly Commended’ awards before they even got to the bronze category. 

The University was also shortlisted for its Let’s Get September Sorted Clearing campaign which positioned the University as a supportive, empathetic ally in prospective students’ decision-making process. The campaign increased Clearing applications by 44% year-on-year, far exceeding objectives.

Nikki Mullineux, Marketing Manager at the University, said: “ To have secured a Heist Bronze and been shortlisted for the Clearing campaign for our work last year demonstrates the quality of work we’re undertaking. The pandemic didn’t hold us back and it was great to see academic and support staff working together so effectively to support prospective students in their decision making.”

Report assesses effects of increased sedentary lifestyle on mental health in pandemic
Jul 2021

Reducing the amount of time spent sitting down should be part of public health policy following COVID-19, says a new report from a study by the University of Huddersfield.

The study assessed the impact of sitting time and physical activity on mental health during the pandemic, and found that the increase in time spent sitting down had an adverse effect on mental health and even outweighed the benefits of regular exercise.

Mental as well as physical health improves with exercise

Being allowed an hour of outdoor exercise on a daily basis was a key part of the UK government’s strategy in the first national lockdown that began in March 2020. However, the study found that a great proportion of people were spending more than eight hours a day sitting, due to working at home or being at a loose end while on furlough, were experiencing detrimental effects to their mental health.

Even people who were active, with around 150 minutes per week of moderate or vigorous physical activity, reported detrimental effects to their mental health. Even more exercise was required to counterbalance this more sedentary lifestyle.

The findings have been collated in the report ‘The impact of sitting time and physical activity on mental health during COVID-19 lockdown’, published in the journal Sport Sciences for Health.

“I started from the position of the government’s allowance of an hour’s outdoor activity during lockdown, which recognises the importance of exercise on mental and physical health,” says Dr Liane Azevedo, one of the report’s three authors along with Dr Susanna Kola-Palmer and Dr Matthew Pears. “People looked forward to that exercise once a day for a bit of fresh air.

“Although our sample of nearly 300 was very active, they were sitting for longer periods with over 50 per cent sitting for more than eight hours a day. We found that sitting time, together with some demographics and pre-existing health conditions, were the main variables to negatively influence mental health and wellbeing.

“Reducing sitting time has a positive effect on mental health. We recommend that together with increase in physical activity, public health should encourage reduction of sitting time for mental health benefits.”

Research aids local study into effects of COVID-19

The research by Dr Azevedo and her colleagues was also shared with Rebecca Elliot, Public Health Manager on mental wellbeing from Kirklees Council to help them assess the impact of Covid-19 on mental health in the local area.

“Exactly what physical activity is should be better understood by people,” adds Dr Azevedo. “It is not just going to the gym. Just going for a walk specially in green areas  is really important, any type of  moderate activity does have benefits. We also noticed from our study that leisure and gardening are activities that help both physically and mentally.

“We want to develop an intervention based on these findings, to focus on the decrease of sedentary behaviour as well as increase in physical activity to promote benefits on mental health.”