University of Edinburgh Business School Director of Research and Deputy Dean, Professor Jonathan Crook explains how our research is impacting the world for the better, and we hear from a number of academics on how this is happening.

I’m proud to say that research is something that the Business School excels at: from blue-sky research on far-reaching topics, to work on niche specialisms, generating new understandings and theories which have the power to make significant changes around the world.

Research at the School isn’t conducted in an academic vacuum or created purely for research’s sake. Research should lead to real-world change by identifying previously unseen problems, creating new patterns of behaviour, or finding nuanced answers to some of the most complex questions we face.

Whether multinationals, governmental bodies, or charities, the School regularly works with industry-leading partners to put research into practice and create tangible and positive change.

Young Money

Tina Harrison

Personal Chair of Financial Services Marketing and Consumption at the School, Professor Tina Harrison–in conjunction with the UK Government’s Young Money initiative–has generated research with far-reaching impacts for the financial wellbeing of young adults across the country.

Tina tells us about her work: "Our report was a key factor that prompted Young Money’s decision to develop teacher training in financial education specifically for teachers of post-16-year-old students. In 2016/17, Young Money led courses for over 1,400 teachers.

"Very limited, reliable evidence existed of the actual impact of financial education on student outcomes, and our report on this is now being used by the Money Advice Service to inform ‘what works’ in financial education in schools."

International Salaries

Ishbel McWha-Hermann

The impacts of research conducted at the Business School are not confined to the borders of any one country or even continent. In the case of Dr Ishbel McWha-Hermann, an Early Career Fellow in International Human Resource Management, the implications for her work are far-reaching and potentially life-changing for tens of thousands of people across the world.

Her research on the payrolls of international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) found a ‘dual-salary’ system with some international workers being paid up to 900 percent more than local colleagues doing similar jobs. As well as the clear financial realities of the findings, there were also knock-on psychological and motivational affects for local workers.

In Ishbel’s case, the initial research has led to the formation of Project Fair, an organisation formed in partnership between the School and others to translate her research findings into practical policy solutions.

She tells us the impact that the work has had: "The project has influenced nine major international aid organisations to pursue fairer pay structures for a combined workforce of 81,000 humanitarian workers in more than 135 countries.

"Project Fair’s long-term programme has now engaged and trained more than 90 international NGO HR leaders to build and disseminate a solid evidence base of fairer remuneration practices in the international aid sector."

Tackling complex global challenges like poverty reduction head-on echoes the School’s outlook and ambition as a world-leading research institution.

Greenhouse Gases

Xi Liang

Another example of work that has led to considerable investment and policy change is the realisation of the research from Xi Liang, Senior Lecturer in Business and Climate Change, into carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but partly due to Xi’s research, CCUS now plays a central role in China’s climate policy and the industry is investing significantly in demonstrating its capability. Xi’s research engagement led to the establishment of the UK-China (Guangdong) CCUS Centre jointly by UK and Chinese industry, academia and governments.

Xi tells us: "The research addresses a problem of critical global significance–the need to avoid more than 2°C of climate change by achieving substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from China which relies on fossil fuels for 80 per cent of its energy supply.

"CCUS is the only technology available to decarbonise fossil fuel-based energy, and is therefore critical both for China’s transition to a low-carbon economy and for achieving a global goal of net zero emissions by 2050."

Identifying the specific challenge and the opportunity of CCUS, Xi’s work focuses on breaking down the barriers to implementing the technology in China. His research into stakeholder perceptions and public engagement, innovative financing models, future-proofing engineering design, legal and regulatory framework, and industry support has had an undeniable impact.

Multi-million pound investment into CCUS has begun in China following Xi’s research, including a £10m capture testing platform in Guangdong province currently in construction, and a £300m project on Asia’s first working off-shore CCUS facility currently in planning. Between the two sites, over 1 million tonnes of CO2 can be stored every year.

The testing platform will be the first multiple technology testing platform in Asia which would contribute to cost reduction and innovation for CO2 capture technologies. In addition, Xi and Business School colleagues are working with Chinese partners to enable CCUS to decarbonise the iron and steel sector in China.

But perhaps the outcome of the research that will have the most impact is the commitment to CCUS development in China’s national climate policy. It is also causing the enactment of a first-of-a-kind financial incentive policy for CCUS demonstration plants by the Guangdong provincial government.

While it is the responsibility of academic institutions to offer new ideas to tackle urgent global challenges like climate change, we can and should also consider how research can have a profound impact on a smaller scale. Staff and students at the Business School tackle an incredibly broad range of research topics, but they share common threads of the impact they can have and the excellent quality of research.

Ageing Population

Wendy Loretto

The ethos of research excellence and bringing about positive change runs through the entire School. From undergraduates who may be conducting research for the first time, right through to the Dean, Professor Wendy Loretto (BCom 1990).

Building on an existing body of research into later life working and the changing nature of retirement, Wendy, along with postdoctoral research fellow Dr Laura Airey, brought together a partnership between the Business School, CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), Age Scotland, Business in the Community and the Scottish Government.

The particular piece of work that underpinned the current collaboration was a study for the Scottish Government into the demographic challenges for the workforce in Scotland. The research and report were designed to raise awareness of the importance of age inclusivity in the workplace, due to Scotland’s ageing population.

Wendy says: "In the past 20 years the number of people aged 45–64 has increased by 26 per cent while the number of people aged 25–44 has fallen by eight per cent. Adapting practices and workplace cultures to be more age inclusive for older employees could add as much as £7 billion to the Scottish economy.

"At the outset of the research, as a partnership, we agreed that to raise awareness and to move employers to action was absolutely our key focus."

The Business School led on the research front to allow the partner organisations to support in turning the information into action, as demonstrated below.

Putting It To Use

Lee Ann Panglea

Alumna Lee Ann Panglea (BCom 1995), Head of CIPD Scotland and Northern Ireland took the research that had been done at the School and put it to practical use.

She tells us: "One of our main focuses is championing flexible working, but not necessarily with older workers.

"We’re an organisation with members working in people and development but we found ourselves asking; what does good practice look like? What should we be advising our members on? The research helped us answer these questions and start to create practical tools and advice for our members.

"Inclusivity is high on the agenda of all HR directors, but primarily along gender or ethnicity lines, and age inclusivity didn’t necessarily feature on their radar–something we want to change."

Wendy Loretto sums up the importance of the work being done at the School finding a place outside academia: "Our research into catering to later life working will have synergistic benefits for all the partners involved (ultimately the economy) by having a joined-up conversation on action we have to take.

"We are all acutely aware that this is a big issue and that no one organisation is going to be able to tackle it alone. Collaboration is key."

In essence, what we consider facts or common sense today, tend–in the main–to be a result of yesterday’s research.

As the demand for research and the understanding of its importance continue to grow, the need for academic insight cannot be overvalued.

Get Involved

Research can have the greatest impact when conducted in partnership with organisations. Businesses and other organisations can approach the Business School to find out how research can help them achieve their objectives while contributing to wider scholarly work. To find out more about how research can help your organisation, contact the Partnership Development Team.

Email Partnership Development