Life sciences and education building

Life sciences and education building

Catalyst for healthcare innovation

Birmingham City University has established an Institute for Health and Quality of Life. Its director, Susannah Goh, explains more about this ambitious initiative to Ian Halstead.

Birmingham City University (BCU) is one of the region’s largest providers of qualified healthcare professionals to the NHS, and its new School of Health Sciences will underpin its fast-growing presence in the healthcare sector. The latter, to be based in Edgbaston, will include specialist laboratories, and deliver an array of courses in health, nutrition and biomedicine when it comes on stream this autumn.

So, given BCU’s expertise - and major investment - in the healthcare and life sciences sectors, it was no surprise to see that one of its new ‘Innovation Institutes’ should focus on health and quality of life issues (the other two focus on sustainable futures and creative innovation).

The institutes have been created to help companies, entrepreneurs and organisations from the private, public and third sectors devise and deliver innovative solutions, at the individual or business-wide level, via collaboration with BCU’s academics and specialists.

Susannah GohIt is a hugely ambitious initiative, but Susannah Goh clearly believes the goals are achievable, as she explains the strategic rationale behind the establishment of the Institute for Health and Quality of Life (IHQL). “We pride ourselves on being a modern university in every sense. We’re one of the UK’s post-1992 universities and have a strongly practice-based and civic ethos,” she says. “We have a very long history of working with the business community, in the Birmingham area and further afield. Our heritage was derived from arts, design, engineering and manufacturing, all sectors for which the city has been noted for over the centuries.

“Our approach to innovation is inspired by the history we share with Birmingham. Design-centred thinking has long been at the heart of our strategic vision. Traditionally, design meant predominantly producing products and processes. But, at BCU, design is also a strongly people-focused endeavour, from the development of medical devices and healthcare services, to the creation of sustainable and citizen-centred built environments.

“The IHQL works closely with BCU’s academic faculties on a daily basis. Our collaborative innovations with industry partners, whether they are social, scientific or technological, are strongly evidence- based. Sound research and analysis, and their application to real-world situations, comprise the touchstone of what makes us BCU.”

Goh and her Institute colleagues provide a conduit between BCU’s vast array of academic expertise, knowledge and research data, and the entrepreneurs, SMEs or major corporates looking to progress their healthcare projects. “It’s all about collaboration, but to do this well, you must first find the right people to assist you. We identify the best people for each proposal put to us, working across the various disciplines to make this happen.

“We are, for example, creating technological solutions to enable people to enhance their health, and the teams brought together for each particular initiative will include specialists from several fields, as diverse as, say, visual communications, machine learning, architecture and physiology.

There’s an equally powerful employment focus about the strategy which underpins the work of the IHQL, and the new School of Health Sciences.  “When the School of Health Sciences opens fully, it will specialise in areas such as biomedicine, diet, nutrition and biomechanical engineering. We have always had expertise in those sectors, but now we’re building very powerful teams. It’s a great time for us.”

“You would be failing as an institution of learning, if you didn’t structure your courses to consider routes to employment, and didn’t engage with your students to consider potential areas of employment, right from the outset,” says Goh. “Many of our courses at the new school will include professional industry placements. We’re about creating jobs for the present and for the future.

“We believe in the benefits of ‘cross-pollination’, for instance, placing a biomedical engineering student into an SME specialising in design, and vice versa. We want to help students to navigate the world beyond ‘university’, which, as you know, does not fit into neatly-classed disciplines.

“We’ve been working with local businesses for over 100 years. Our students hail from 80 countries, but around half of the student population comes from the West Midlands. This informs our solid commitment to local employment and wealth creation.

“A central element of the IHQL’s strategy is to develop long-term relationships, whether we’re working with a big plc, or an SME.

“The catalyst for our initial collaboration might simply be the need for a single product evaluation, but because we have expertise in other areas, we end up exploring further and larger projects, which is very pleasing - and productive for everyone concerned.”

IHQL helps industry partners to access core areas of expertise such as data analytics, genomics, enterprise systems, sports, exercise and performance, and biomedical engineering, to name a few. It’s an imposing array of subjects, but Goh talks with confidence and knowledge as she outlines the rationale for those choices.

“There are many fields that I could talk about and it would be impossible to do justice to all of them in this interview!” Goh notes, enthusiastically. “However, as a flavour of what we do, across disciplines, I’d like to mention some areas that are likely to strike a particular chord with BQ audiences.

Computer“We have an excellent array of expertise within data analytics, informatics and psychology. For example, our Data Science and Big Data Analytics Research Group and Centre for Applied Psychology cover areas that help industry partners spot vital trends and even predict human behaviours- all crucial to staying ahead of the curve in creating products and services, as well as managing complex workflows.

“With increasing expectations of a rapidly available user experience, technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are critical enablers to user take-up. Our Digital Media Technology Lab team uses these technologies, and more, to address areas as diverse as dentistry, oncology and medical education.

“Our growing cadre of Health and Life Sciences teams have allowed us to take our research and evaluation offering to new heights. What is especially great is that our head of school of allied and public health professions, has recruited teams with form in not just academia, but also in practice- and that includes working in both private and public sector environments.

“Overall, this dynamic brings with it great enthusiasm from - and, vitally, competence in staff - working with our neighbours in the life sciences community, including Subrata Ghosh and his team at the Institute for Translational Medicine, Medilink, the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network and Birmingham Science City, as well as national and international partners.

“IHQL, in close partnership with the BCU faculties, offers a clear point of entry through which to gain that nuanced approach to achieving a leading edge in health and healthcare markets, as well as truly appropriate solutions to maintaining societal wellbeing.”

For more information please contact Susannah Goh, Director – Institute for Health and Quality of Life

BCU logo

University House, 15 Batholomew Row, Birmingham B5 5JU
T: +44 (0) 121 331 8648
M: + 44 (0) 7718 972 262
W: www.bcu.ac.uk