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


Coventry Business School joins global network of business schools
Jun 2021

Coventry Business School has expanded its global footprint and engagement with international partners from new regions by joining the Global Business School Network (GBSN).

Founded by the World Bank in 2003, GBSN is a non-profit organisation that works with business schools, industry, foundations and aid agencies to improve access to quality, locally relevant management and entrepreneurship education for the developing world.

Since its formation in 2003, it has grown to a network of over 100 leading business schools in more than 50 countries that are committed to profoundly impacting sustainable development worldwide, through education, research, and community engagement.

Coventry Business School’s membership of GBSN further enhances its working relationships with its business school peers around the world to develop business education and knowledge. Through Coventry University Group’s global offices in China, Dubai, Singapore, Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria, the school enjoys close links with leading universities and international organisations around the world.

Through GBSN’s international events and capacity building programmes, Coventry Business School will be involved in advising, training and mentoring regional educators. With over 50 years of experience teaching business, the School prides itself on delivering high quality research that informs its teaching and can make a difference to society.

The School also delivers a broad portfolio of grant-funded internationally collaborative research as well as client funded consultancy, knowledge transfer activity, and international research exchange.

At Coventry Business School, it is our belief that access to education is paramount for the development of individuals and societies. We are proud of our national and international outreach to both traditional and non-traditional, often first in their family to attend university, students. Through collaborations as well as through our on-line capabilities, we seek to create better futures for our graduates.

           Professor Kai Peters, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Business and Law,               Coventry University

The mission of GBSN is to improve access to quality, locally relevant management and entrepreneurship education for the developing world. In short, we enable business schools to foster inclusive and sustainable development, and that clearly aligns well with the vision and mission of Coventry Business School.

Dan LeClair, CEO of Global Business School Network

Through the GBSN network, Coventry Business School will expand our global activities for collaborative research, educational collaboration and international experiences for our students and staff. This is a great opportunity for our Business School to expand our global footprint and reputation.

Professor Sukanlaya Sawang, Associate Dean and GBSN membership project lead, Coventry Business School
Aston University accredited for sustainable development by student-led programme
Jun 2021

Aston University has been successfully audited by its own students for creating an environment for embedding sustainability into its teaching and learning.

The Responsible Futures framework is a whole-institution approach to embedding social responsibility and sustainability across the formal and informal curriculum in further and higher education. It is a support change programme and accreditation mark that works to put sustainability at the heart of student learning.

The Responsible Futures programme is run by Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS). The framework facilitates a close working partnership between students’ unions and their institutions through a set of criteria drawn from good practice across the sector.

The programme consists of students conducting audits of their own institution and students' union which are then benchmarked against a set of sustainability criteria compiled by SOS. Accreditations are awarded and remain valid for two years.

Andrew Bryers, sustainability manager at Aston University, said:

“This accreditation shows that Aston University has been working to embed sustainable development including corporate social responsibility and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals into its teaching and learning. This work has been led by colleagues from all colleges, internal departments including our estates team and the students’ union.”

Nathalie Ormrod, Aston University's PRME (United Nation's Principles for Responsible Management Education) director, added:

"Students are increasingly at the forefront of sustainability thinking and action; they are tomorrow's sustainability decision and policy makers, hence their invaluable role in terms of shaping higher education curricula and research."

Professor Pauline Slade honoured by British Psychological Society
Jun 2021

Professor Pauline Slade has received the prestigious M. B. Shapiro Award from the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology for her contribution to the field of perinatal mental health.

Given in honour of the late Monte B Shapiro – widely considered the founding father of clinical psychology in the UK – this  award is made to clinical psychologists  late in their career who have achieved eminence in the profession through their work impacting on knowledge and practice and driving innovation.

Pauline is a Professor in Clinical Psychology in the University’s Department of Primary Care and Mental Health and Consultant Clinical Psychologist for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals where she set up the Birth Trauma Clinic. She specialises in developing and evaluating psychological prevention and intervention strategies, with specific interests in post traumatic stress after childbirth, fear of childbirth and maternity workforce wellbeing in relation to work- related trauma exposure.

During her career she has published over 140 scientific papers and many book chapters and service reports. She has received 34 grants totally in excess of £4.25 million alongside always working clinically in women’s reproductive mental health. She has played a major role in the Perinatal Faculty of the British Psychological Society serving on its Executive Committee since 2010 and as chair 2013-2015.

Dr Ross White, interim Head of the Department of Primary Care and Mental Health, said: “The award is testament to the outstanding contribution that Pauline has made over many years. Notably, Pauline has pioneered NHS birth trauma clinics and this is one of the main foci of the new maternal mental health services that are now being rolled out nationally. So her clinical work, research activity and contribution to the profession of clinical psychology have all served to have a significant impact on perinatal mental health.”

Professor Slade said: “I am delighted to receive this award, but much more delighted to see that the importance of mental health in pregnancy and postnatally now being recognised and supported through the provision of services. Health inequalities begin before birth and these services provide an opportunity for preventative and restorative care and can contribute to developing a more healthy, more compassionate and fairer society.”

Dr Zoe Pounder for The Conversation about aphantasia and why some people cannot form mental pictures
Jun 2021

Researcher in Visual Imagery, wrote an article for The Conversation explaining aphantasia, which is the inability to voluntarily create a mental picture in your head.

How many times have you watched a book adaptation on film or TV, and felt disappointed when a scene wasn’t quite how you’d pictured it? Or perhaps a character looked nothing like you’d imagined them to look?

Most people, when asked to form an image of a person they’re familiar with, can see it within their mind. In other words, it’s a visual, mental experience – similar to what we would see if the person were in front of us.

But it turns out that this isn’t true for everyone. Some people, when asked to form an image, will report they cannot “see” anything. This recently-identified variation of human experience was named in 2015 as aphantasia. It is estimated that 2% to 5% of the population have a lifelong inability to generate any images within their mind’s eye.

Studying aphantasia

We assessed visual memory performance between individuals with aphantasia compared to those who had typical imagery.

In the study, participants were shown three images of a living room, a kitchen and a bedroom, and were asked to draw each from memory. Their drawings were objectively reviewed by over 2,700 online scorers who assessed the object details (what objects looked like) and spatial details (the size and location of objects).

We expected people with aphantasia might find it difficult to draw an image from memory as they can’t summon these pictures in their mind’s eye.

Our findings showed people with aphantasia drew the objects of the correct size and location, but they provided less of the visual details such as colour and also drew a fewer number of objects compared to typical imagers.

Some participants with aphantasia noted what the object was through language – such as writing the words “bed” or “chair” – rather than drawing the object. This suggests those with aphantasia could be using alternative strategies such as verbal representations rather than visual memory. These differences in object and spatial detail weren’t due to differences in artistic ability or drawing effort.

Our results suggested people with aphantasia have intact spatial imagery abilities – the ability to represent the size, location and position of objects in relation to each other. This finding has been reinforced in another of our studies examining how people with aphantasia perform in a number of imagery-related memory tasks.

We found people who lacked the ability to generate visual imagery performed just as well as people with typical imagery in these tasks. We also found similarities in performance within the classic mental rotation imagery task, in which people look at shapes to work out if they are the same shape rotated or different shapes.

This performance suggests that you don’t need to “see” with the mind’s eye to carry-out these tasks. On the other hand, it’s been documented that some people with aphantasia – but not all – are more likely to report difficulties with recognising faces and also report a poor autobiographical memory – the memory of life events – a type of memory thought to rely heavily on visual imagery.

Life with aphantasia

People with aphantasia also describe other variations in their experience. Not everyone with aphantasia has a complete lack of imagery experience across all senses. Some might be able to hear a tune in their mind, but not be able to imagine visual images associated with it.

Similarly, research has shown that despite the inability to generate on-demand visual imagery, some people with aphantasia may still report experiencing visual imagery within dreams. Others say their dreams are non-visual – made up of conceptual or emotional content.

These fascinating variations illustrate some of the invisible differences that exist among us. Although many people with aphantasia may not be aware they experience the world differently, what we do know is people with aphantasia live full and professional lives. In fact, it’s been shown that people with aphantasia work within a range of both scientific and creative industries.

For many, visual imagery is intrinsic to how they think, remember past events and plan for the future – a process they engage in and experience without actively trying to. We don’t yet know why such imagery variation exists, or the underlying basis. But, as aphantasia has shown, many of our mental experiences are not experienced universally. There are in fact a number of unknowing yet intriguing variations amongst us.

Euro 2020: Can postponed major sporting events be the tonic we need to get us through the dark days of Covid-19?
Jun 2021

As Euro 2020 finally gets underway, David Cook and Dr Chris Pich, Nottingham Business School, write about their research which aims to uncover how the branding of major sporting events can help to bring communities together.

Major sport events such as the UEFA Euro 2020 Football Championships are designed to encourage participation, unity, improve good governance, and enhance engagement for football fans around the world. The tournament is underpinned by a simple vision promoting ‘togetherness for the future of football’ and designed to align with its strategy ‘for all football stakeholders to work together in a spirit of cooperation and togetherness – with the overall well-being of the European game always in mind’.

Relatively little is known about major sporting event brands. More specifically, there is limited insight into how they create and manage distinct, competitive and clear identities often designed to communicate and appeal to multiple stakeholders in a national and international setting. This is what we will be exploring using Euro 2020 as our focus.

To celebrate the tournament’s 60th anniversary, UEFA Euro 2020 is being hosted on a one-off basis by 11 different cities spread across Europe, from Britain to Baku (The 11 cities: Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome, Seville, St Petersburg). It is unprecedented that such a number of hosts have been tasked with facilitating such a prestigious major sporting event, and will consequently develop related yet distinct identities, or sub-brands.

We were in the process of conducting a number of interviews with industry specialists/insiders involved in the organisation of the tournament across a number of host cities  until, along with all other sporting events, the tournament was postponed for 12 months in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Sport, as with most other aspects of life, was put on hold. Related industries have been decimated and many found themselves suddenly out of work. Our study aims to shed light on an under-developed and under-researched topic area, as the unparalleled and widespread branding and cultural circumstances of the tournament still offer an invaluable opportunity to assess the development of the major sporting event brand, the creation of city-based sub-brands, and an exploration of the relationships between the different hosts.

Brought to life with unpreceded access to key stakeholders, we intend to discover whether the brand will now take on a more symbolic image of hope in the minds of citizens and fans as the world continues its battle with Covid-19. Will Euro 2020 truly inspire togetherness not only for the future of football and more widely sport in general, but also encourage greater unity, cooperation, togetherness and well-being during and beyond these dark times?

Our research offers deep insight into how major sporting event brand identities are created and managed from an insider-expert perspective. Our findings highlight the existence of multiple identities – the corporate UEFA master-brand identity, related yet distinct from 11 host city sub-brands.

In addition, our research explores the degree of misalignment in strategy, which is encouraged between the host cities, in order for each to develop tailored identities to meet the wants, needs and culture of each jurisdiction. For instance, Baku, situated around 1800 miles from the next closest host cities of Bucharest and St Petersburg, has a very different strategy and target market for its games than London. Therefore, UEFA put forward a controlled wish-list and it is the responsibility of host cities to deliver and bring the sub-sports brands to realisation.

The tournament still offers vast potential to create positive experiences for stakeholders and establish long-term societal benefits, by allowing each city to tap into the communal warmth that the sport provides, whilst maintaining a level of consistency expected of a prestigious major sporting event.

Euro 2020 can be seen as a beacon of hope, positivity and an aspirational major sporting event brand for life beyond Covid-19. These major events have the power to bring people together and help re-connect societies once the worst of this crisis has passed. Notable events, such as Live Aid, have helped bring people together in the past.

We hope that organisers have used the postponement, where possible, as an opportunity to reflect, refocus, reassess, and adapt, forming a long-term, sustainable approach whereby sporting events can be utilised as important strategic vehicles for creating much-needed value for society. They represent something to be looked forward to, even longed-for - instrumental in helping to raise morale, re-unite people, and re-build communities in the wake of this devastating time.

Frequent strenuous exercise increases the chance of developing MND in genetically at risk individuals
Jun 2021

Frequent strenuous exercise increases the risk of developing motor neurone disease (MND) in certain people, new research from the University of Sheffield has found.

  • The pioneering study led by the University of Sheffield represents a significant step towards unravelling the link between high levels of physical activity and the development of the neurodegenerative condition 
  • The findings show a causal relationship between exercise and MND, with high intensity physical activity likely to contribute to motor neurone injury in individuals with a predisposing genetic profile

The findings, published in the journal EBioMedicine, show a causal relationship between exercise and MND, with high intensity physical activity likely to contribute to motor neurone injury, but only in individuals with a predisposing genetic profile.

    Over recent years a number of professional sportsmen across the world have shared their experience of living with MND. The condition is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease in North America in memory of a professional baseball player for the New York Yankees who developed the condition in his 30’s.   

    The life-time risk of developing MND is approximately 1 in 400.  Previous research has reported an estimated six-times increased risk of MND in professional football players compared to the general population. 

    Scientists at the University of Sheffield believe the pioneering study represents a significant step towards unravelling the link between high levels of physical activity and the development of the neurodegenerative condition which affects approximately 5,000 people in the UK.

    o-author of the study, Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute and Senior Lecturer in Neurology, said: “Complex diseases such as MND are caused by an interaction between genetics and the environment. We urgently need to understand this interaction in order to discover pioneering therapies and preventative strategies for this cruel and debilitating disease.  

    “We have suspected for some time that exercise was a risk factor for MND, but until now this link was considered controversial. This study confirms that in some people, frequent strenuous exercise leads to an increase in the risk of MND.

    “It is important to stress that we know that most people who undertake vigorous exercise do not develop MND. Sport has a large number of health benefits and most sportsmen and women do not develop MND. The next step is to identify which individuals specifically are at risk of MND if they exercise frequently and intensively; and how much exercise increases that risk.”

    Senior author of the study, Professor Dame Pamela Shaw Director of the Neuroscience Institute and NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Sheffield, said: “This research goes some way towards unravelling the link between high levels of physical activity and the development of MND in certain genetically at-risk groups.  We studied the link using three different approaches and each indicated that regular strenuous exercise is a risk factor associated with MND. 

    “There are three important key findings of the study. Firstly those who have a genetic make-up favouring strenuous physical activity have an increased risk of developing MND.  Many of the 30 plus genes known to predispose to MND change in their levels of expression during intense physical exercise and individuals who have a mutation in the C9ORF72 gene, which accounts for 10 percent of MND cases, have an earlier age of disease onset if they have a lifestyle which includes high levels of strenuous physical activity. 

    “Clearly most people who undertake strenuous exercise do not develop motor neurone injury and more work is needed to pin-point the precise genetic risk factors involved.  The ultimate aim is to identify environmental risk factors which can predispose to MND, to inform prevention of disease and life-style choices.” 

    MND, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) as it is also known, is a disorder that affects the nerves - motor neurones - in the brain and spinal cord that form the connection between the nervous system and muscles to enable movement of the body. The messages from these nerves gradually stop reaching the muscles, leading them to weaken, stiffen and eventually waste.  The progressive disease affects a person’s ability to walk, talk, use their arms and hands, eat and breathe.

    Approximately 10 per cent of MND cases are inherited, but the remaining 90 per cent are caused by complex genetic and environmental interactions which are not well understood – this is known as sporadic MND.

    The new research will have a significant impact on the global research effort to identify which individuals based on their genetics are at risk of MND. In time it is hoped that this work will help medical professionals to be able to offer advice to family members of MND patients about the risks so they can make personal decisions about their exercise habits.

    Dr Brian Dickie, Director of Research Development at the Motor Neurone Disease Association said: “In recent years, understanding of the genetics of MND has advanced, but there has been little progress in identifying the environmental and lifestyle factors that increase the risk of developing the disease.

    “This is, in part, because the genetic and the environmental studies tend to be carried out in isolation by different research teams, so each is only working with part of the jigsaw. The power of this research from the University of Sheffield comes from bringing these pieces of the puzzle together.

    “We need more robust research like this to get us to a point where we really understand all the factors involved in MND to help the search for more targeted treatments.”

    The Neuroscience Institute at the University of Sheffield brings together leading experts in medicine, science and engineering to better understand the nervous system and tackle the biggest challenges in neuroscience.

    Recreating a step in the evolution of viruses
    Jun 2021

    An international team of researchers has shed new light on the way viruses evolved highly effective ways of spreading disease.

    The scientists, involving a team from the universities of Leeds and York, believe understanding that key moment in the natural history of viruses may eventually help with the design of novel delivery mechanisms for gene therapies, where viruses are used to repair faulty genes. 

    Their findings - published in the journal Science - describes how viruses developed early in their evolutionary history a highly effective mechanism for getting their genetic code into other cells to infect them. The key to that process is the way genetic information is transported from the virus to the host cell – and that happens in a specialised protein container known as a capsid. 

    An artificial capsid was engineered from a bacterial enzyme by scientists at ETH University in Zurich, Switzerland - and that was used to mimic the behaviour of a virus capsid. Because the capsid rapidly recreates itself, the scientists were able to conduct an experiment in ‘artificial evolution’ - to see how the capsid adapted over time. 

    The capsid went through a series of structural modifications that made it more effective in the way it could transport and protect its genetic cargo. 

    More effective transport of genetic code 

    A capsid contains structural sub-units. The sub-units contain the toolbox that the genetic code needs to replicate a virus’s RNA or DNA - or genetic blueprint. During the experiment with the artificial capsid, the scientists discovered that the capsid started off with 60 sub-units. As time went on, the number of subunits increased to 180 subunits and then to 240 subunits. These numbers are significant because natural viruses build their capsids from identical numbers of subunits. 

    Professor Peter Stockley, from the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds and a member of the research team, said “What’s remarkable is this artificial virus-like particle evolves to be more efficient in packaging its genetic code.  

    “This study shows how an artificial capsid has ‘evolved’ a system that is remarkably like that seen in natural viruses and therefore probably reveals an adaptation that occurred in the early evolution of viruses.” 

    Professor Stockley believes an understanding of the structural changes in a capsid development could eventually be exploited to help design and manufacture artificial capsids for use in gene therapy where they would be used to replace or repair faulty genes.  

    Hallmarks of virus assembly 

    The team at the universities of Leeds and York used a technique called x-ray foot printing to investigate the genetic code in the capsids.

    Professor Reidun Twarock, from the University of York’s Departments of Mathematics and Biology, and the York Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis, said: “Using a novel interdisciplinary technique developed in our Wellcome Trust funded team in Leeds and York, we were able to demonstrate that this artificial system evolved the molecular hallmarks of a ‘virus assembly mechanism’, which enabled efficient packaging of its genetic cargo.” 

    Earlier this year, the scientists at Leeds and York published research that revealed how some viruses such as the viruses causing the common cold and polio package-up their genetic code in a way that makes them more infective.

    Liverpool professors recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours
    Jun 2021

    Two leading academics from the University of Liverpool have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for their services to research and the COVID-19 response.

    Professor Tom Solomon, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, has been honoured with a CBE and Professor William Hope, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Infectious Diseases Research, has received an OBE. As well as being eminent researchers in their own specialist fields, both have played pivotal roles in leading Liverpool’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Professor Dame Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said: “Professor William Hope and Professor Tom Solomon have both been awarded national honours in recognition of the service they have given as outstanding researchers and educators, and as leaders in their respective fields. The entire University of Liverpool community joins me in congratulating them on their honours – we are very proud to call them our own.”

    Jun 2021

    The University of Salford will host its first ever Festival of Entrepreneurship & Innovation later this month and the event is open to anyone who is keen to run their own business. And 100 places for each event have been opened for A-level and BTEC students from local colleges. 

    Attendees will learn from established entrepreneurs what it takes to build a business from scratch, be a freelancer, gain and develop entrepreneurial skills, what mistakes to avoid and hear about how they are using their businesses to make an impact and to make the world a better place.

    Kicking off on Monday 17 May, it is a great opportunity to find out more about setting up a business and making it successful. The five-week festival aims to bring together rising entrepreneurs and industry professionals in a wide range of events designed to expand networks, share knowledge and broaden horizons.

    Anyone who would like to learn more about the ins and outs of becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business venture are welcome to attend the festival.

    Meet over 18 speakers and well-established entrepreneurs such as Cesar Melo, former Pepsico President, Vikas Shah MBE and John Roberts, the CEO of AO World.

    Get inspired and broaden your understanding of the business landscape in the post-pandemic era. Network with like-minded business professionals and social entrepreneurs who are supporting the local and the global community. Boost your employability prospects, stimulate your creativity and discover whether the entrepreneurship journey is the right path for you.

    Learn how to expand your business globally with our very first Launch Global Programme.

    Festival manager Justyna Turner, who runs the Launch @Salforduni incubator, said: “We’re really excited to be bring the first ever entrepreneurship festival to Salford. There is so much going on, there should be something for everybody, whether you are a student, a graduate or just someone who aspires to be an entrepreneur.

    “We are keen to help the community and not just our own students, which is why we want to hear from schools and colleges who may be keen for their students to learn more about being entrepreneurial.

    “Even if you’re not looking at working for yourself, developing entrepreneurial skills can take you a long way in your career.

    “And this is just the start. I’m looking forward to the festival getting bigger and better every year.”

    Astronomers spot a ‘blinking giant’ near the centre of the Galaxy
    Jun 2021

    Astronomers have spotted a giant ‘blinking’ star towards the centre of the Milky Way, more than 25,000 light years away.

    An international team of astronomers observed the star, VVV-WIT-08, decreasing in brightness by a factor of 30, nearly disappearing from the sky. While many stars change in brightness because they pulsate or are eclipsed by another star in a binary system, it’s exceptionally rare for a star to become fainter over a period of several months and then brighten again.

    The researchers believe that VVV-WIT-08 may belong to a new class of ‘blinking giant’ binary star system, where a giant star ⎼ 100 times larger than the Sun ⎼ is eclipsed once every few decades by an as-yet unseen orbital companion. The companion, which may be another star or a planet, is surrounded by an opaque disc, which covers the giant star, causing it to disappear and reappear in the sky. The study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    The discovery was led by Dr Leigh Smith at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, working with scientists at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Hertfordshire, the University of Warsaw in Poland and Universidad Andres Bello in Chile.

    Co-author Dr Sergey Koposov from the University of Edinburgh said: “It’s amazing that we just observed a dark, large and elongated object pass between us and the distant star and we can only speculate what its origin is."

    Since the star is located in a dense region of the Milky Way, the researchers considered whether some unknown dark object could have simply drifted in front of the giant star by chance. However, simulations showed that there would have to be an implausibly large number of dark bodies floating around the Galaxy for this scenario to be likely.

    One other star system of this sort has been known for a long time. The giant star Epsilon Aurigae is partly eclipsed by a huge disc of dust every 27 years, but only dims by about 50%. A second example, TYC 2505-672-1, was found a few years ago, and holds the current record for the eclipsing binary star system with the longest orbital period ⎼ 69 years ⎼ a record for which VVV-WIT-08 is currently a contender.

    The UK-based team has also found two more of these peculiar giant stars in addition to VVV-WIT-08, suggesting that these may be a new class of ‘blinking giant’ stars for astronomers to investigate.

    VVV-WIT-08 was found by the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea survey (VVV), a project using the British-built VISTA telescope in Chile and operated by the European Southern Observatory, that has been observing the same one billion stars for nearly a decade to search for examples with varying brightness in the infrared part of the spectrum.

    Project co-leader Professor Philip Lucas from the University of Hertfordshire said: “Occasionally we find variable stars that don’t fit into any established category, which we call ‘what-is-this?’, or ‘WIT’ objects. We really don’t know how these blinking giants came to be. It’s exciting to see such discoveries from VVV after so many years planning and gathering the data.”

    While VVV-WIT-08 was discovered using VVV data, the dimming of the star was also observed by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), a long-running observation campaign run by the University of Warsaw. OGLE makes more frequent observations, but closer to the visible part of the spectrum. These frequent observations were key for modelling VVV-WIT-08, and they showed that the giant star dimmed by the same amount in both the visible and infrared light.

    There now appear to be around half a dozen potential known star systems of this type, containing giant stars and large opaque discs. “There are certainly more to be found, but the challenge now is in figuring out what the hidden companions are, and how they came to be surrounded by discs, despite orbiting so far from the giant star,” said Smith. “In doing so, we might learn something new about how these kinds of systems evolve.”

    Suffolk Business School partners with a leading global leadership organisation
    Jun 2021

    Suffolk Business School at the University of Suffolk is pleased to announce its partnership with ILM to run accredited short-course programmes for local businesses and for the dual-accreditation of degree programmes for Suffolk Business School students.  

    This collaboration, part of Suffolk Business School’s commitment to work more closely with the business community and to add value to its courses by ensuring all programmes have external accreditation, is exciting news for new students and for local businesses. 

    From September 2021, the newly formed Leadership Academy at the University of Suffolk will start to offer the Level 3 and Level 5 Certificates in Leadership and Management – prestigious awards designed to enable people and organisations to develop their leadership skills. These courses, perfect for those looking to develop new skills or move into new roles focus on applying leadership and management ideas to the day-to-day challenges of work and organisation. 

    Joe Bell, Higher Education Partnership Manager with ILM “We are excited to be starting this new partnership with the University of Suffolk and look forward to supporting them in ensuring their students have the very best opportunity to demonstrate their leadership skills.  Our Qualifications are all about work-based application, supporting our partners in creating the impactful leaders of the future.”  

    The dual-accreditation of degree courses means that students who complete a relevant programme of study will leave with more than a degree certificate. Students who join from September 2021 will also have the opportunity to receive certification from the ILM which emphasises the real-world, applied, nature of the courses. This new relationship means graduates of the new Suffolk Executive MBA, MSc International Business Management and BA(Hons) Business Management will receive Level 7 Diploma in Leadership and Management, Level 7 Certificate in Leadership and Management or Level 5 Certificate in Leadership and Management respectively. 

    Professor Gurpreet Jagpal, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Business and Enterprise is keen to emphasise the value of these awards. He said “This is great news for our students and recognises the work that we have done to ensure that our courses will help prepare them for fulfilling careers after graduation.” 

    70-year-old coffee-killing fungus brought back to life to fight the disease
    Jun 2021

    Researchers have re-animated specimens of a fungus that causes coffee wilt to discover how the disease evolved and how its spread can be prevented.

    Coffee Wilt Disease is caused by a fungus that has led to devastating outbreaks since the 1920s in sub-Saharan Africa, and currently affects two of Africa’s most popular coffee varieties: Arabica and Robusta.

    The new research shows that the fungus likely boosted its ability to infect coffee plants by acquiring genes from a closely related fungus, which causes wilt disease on a wide range of crops, including Panama disease in bananas.

    The researchers say this knowledge could help farmers reduce the risk of new disease strains emerging, for example by not planting coffee together with other crops or by preventing the build-up of plant debris that could harbour the related fungus.

    Sustainable solutions

    The research team, from Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, and the agricultural not-for-profit CABI, also say that studying historical samples in CABI’s culture collection could provide a wealth of insights into how crop diseases evolve and find new, sustainable ways to fight them. The study is published today in BMC Genomics.

    First author of the study Lily Peck is studying on the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership at the Grantham Institute and the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial. She said: “Using ever-higher volumes of chemicals and fungicides to fight emerging crop diseases is neither sustainable nor affordable for many growers.

    “If we can instead understand how new types of diseases evolve, we can give growers the knowledge they need to reduce the risk of new diseases emerging in the first place.”

    Coffee-specific strains

    The team re-animated cryogenically frozen samples of the fungus that causes Coffee Wilt Disease. There have been two serious outbreaks of the disease, in the 1920s-1950s and between the 1990s-2000s, and it still causes damage.

    For example, in 2011, 55,000 Robusta coffee trees were killed by wilt in Tanzania, destroying 160T of coffee in the process – equivalent to over 22 million cups of coffee.

    In the outbreak beginning in the 1920s, Coffee Wilt Disease infected a wide range of coffee varieties, and was eventually brought under control in the 1950s by management practices such as burning infected trees, seeking natural resistance in coffee, and breeding programs that selected for more resistant plant varieties.

    However, the disease re-emerged in the 1970s and spread extensively through the 1990s-2000s. Two separate disease populations have been identified with each only infecting specific types of coffee: one infecting Arabica coffee in Ethiopia, and the other infecting Robusta coffee in east and central Africa. The team wanted to investigate how the two strains had emerged.

    Swapping genes

    In a secure lab at CABI, they re-awakened two strains from the original outbreak, collected in the 1950s and deposited into CABI’s collection, and two strains each from the two coffee-specific fungal strains, with the most recent from 2003. They then sequenced the genomes of the fungi and examined their DNA for evidence of changes that could have helped them infect these specific coffee varieties.

    They discovered the newer, variety-specific fungi have larger genomes than the earlier strains, and they identified genes that could have helped the fungi overcome plants’ defences and survive within the plants to trigger disease.

    These genes were also found to be highly similar to those found in a different, closely related fungus that affects over 120 different crops, including bananas in sub-Saharan Africa, causing Panama disease, which is currently devastating today's most popular variety, the Cavendish banana.

    While strains of this banana-infecting fungus are known to be able to swap genes, conferring the ability to infect new varieties, the potential transfer of their genes to a different species of fungi has not been seen before.

    However, the team note that the two species sometimes live in close proximity on the roots of coffee and banana plants, and so it is possible that the coffee fungus gained these advantageous genes from its normally banana-based neighbour.

    Coffee and bananas are often grown together, as coffee plants like the shade provided by the taller banana plants. The researchers say their study could suggest not growing crops with closely related diseases together, like banana and coffee, could reduce the possibility of new strains of coffee-killing fungi evolving.

    The evolution of outbreaks

    The researchers are now using the re-animated strains to infect coffee plants in the lab, in order to study exactly how the fungus infects the plant, potentially providing other ways to prevent the disease taking hold.

    The insights could also be applied to different crop plants, where other closely related plant pathogens could make similar leaps, causing new diseases to emerge. Having shown the value of examining historical specimens of plant disease, the team plan to replicate the study with other diseases stored in CABI’s collection, which hosts 30,000 specimens collected from around the world over the past 100 years.

    Lead researcher Professor Timothy Barraclough, from the Department of Zoology at Oxford and the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “The historical approach shows us what happens to a plant pathogen before and after a new outbreak of disease occurs. We can then study the mechanisms of evolution and improve predictions of how similar outbreaks could occur in the future.

    “Our aim is to replicate this study for many plant pathogens, eventually drawing up a ‘rule book’ of how pathogenicity evolves, helping us to prevent future outbreaks where possible.”