Helping to improve malaria health care in southern Africa

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Work conducted by a Bristol Business School Professor on organisational systems in malaria zones has had a significant impact on international efforts to eradicate the disease.  Backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Malaria Elimination Initiative, Professor Peter Case’s work has introduced a new approach to tackling malaria in Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

Every year some half a million people die from the disease, which still exists in nearly 100 countries. Humans bitten by infected mosquitoes carrying the parasite can experience high fevers, chills, and other severe symptoms.

Although many NGOs distribute treated mosquito nets, or supply anti-malaria tablets to high-risk communities, human and organisational factors are often overlooked, says the academic.

“A vaccine or technology used as a solution is often seen as a silver bullet and is vital. But I believe this makes up only five percent of what can be done – the remaining 95% comes down to dealing with the flaws, difficulties, idiosyncrasies and foibles of human organisational systems,” he says.

Professor Case’s work, in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), provides methods to identify, analyse, and resolve context-specific challenges. Through a series of workshops taking place in the country where malaria poses a threat, members of staff (from the most junior front-line staff to the most senior medics and administrators) are able to meet in the same space and communicate the challenges they face when tackling malaria.

Together, they can then generate collective solutions and trace necessary changes that need to be made within the delivery system to improve prevention and treatment.

“While all the workshop participants play a crucial role in the process, hands-on expertise lies at the front line, because these are the people who see others with the disease day in day out, or who go in to spray homesteads,” says Professor Case.

Past examples of challenges these workers have experienced include instances when villagers who are issued with mosquito nets are later seen using them for fishing. In another African village, witnesses have noted that people who develop malaria symptoms sometimes seek non-medical care from traditional healers rather than go to a clinic.

Professor Case and colleague Dr Mberikunashe in Zimbabwe

This exercise of generating a list of shared challenges leads to a practical work plan with a dedicated group of people who take responsibility for implementing solutions. It has helped instil self-confidence and assertiveness within individuals who work on the front line, helping staff to realise that they can rely on themselves and colleagues to problem solve.

Professor Case’s work has had significant impact in southern Africa. Implementing this methodology across Swaziland has led to improvement in the reporting of malaria cases by health facilities and increased collaboration between the malaria program, schools, and community organisations. It has also led to improved communication between leaders within the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP).

In Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland South, Case’s system of structured organizational development has led to improvement in the availability and use of malaria registers by health facilities, a decrease in stock-outs of key malaria treatment drugs, and an increase in malaria case investigation rate within three days.

To ensure the project remains sustainable, Bristol Business School has begun training six medical staff at all levels of seniority in Zimbabwe via a PG Cert in Leadership and Professional Practice, which they are undertaking through distance learning.

These initial trainees will be assisting with similar process improvement initiatives in other malaria-prone countries in southern Africa, beginning in 2018 with Namibia.

Romantic poet’s home discovered through UWE Bristol research

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This week, a blue heritage plaque was unveiled in Bristol to denote the house where a famous 19th Century Romantic poet once lived – all thanks to research carried out at UWE Bristol.

While researching a new online course about writers in the west country, Robin Jarvis, who is Professor of English Literature at the University, discovered that former Poet Laureate Robert Southey lived in 87 Kingsdown Parade from 1802-1803.

The house in Kingsdown is a Grade II listed building Southey resided in, and is largely unaltered from how it was when he lived there.

Robin said: “Southey lived the first 30 years of his life in and around Bristol, but this is the only house he lived in for any length of time that survived the Blitz and post-war redevelopment. The link to the poet was previously unrecognised, owing to the renaming and renumbering of streets since Southey’s time.”

Southey was well known in his day as the member of a prominent movement of romantic poets that included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was his friend. He also held the post of Poet Laureate for three decades.

Born in a Bristol house on Wine Street, he later shared lodgings with Coleridge in College Street, lived with his aunt on College Green, and occupied a house in Stokes Croft. None of these buildings exist anymore.”

In December 2017, Robin contacted the Bristol Civic Society, which administers the blue plaques scheme in Bristol, to draw their attention to the house, and they approved the commemorative ensign. This week, alongside the academic and the property’s owners, they unveiled the historical plaque in memory of the poet.

“This was a significant residence for Southey because it is where his first child, daughter Margaret, was born and died before her first birthday, hence his short stint in the house,” said Robin.

“Bristol has a rich literary heritage that is less visible compared to Bath, and these are links worth recognising and celebrating,” he said.

“You can often walk around Bristol and be unaware this exists because, unfortunately, a lot of physical evidence of any links has suffered in the war.”

Robin said that Coleridge and Southey got married in Bristol’s St Mary Redcliffe church in 1795, weeks apart from each other. In the latter half of their careers, both poets lived in the Lake District and were part of a Romantic poetry group called the Lake School.

The academic realised that Southey had lived in the Kingsdown House while carrying out research for UWE Bristol’s new free online course called “Writing the West: Literature and Place.”

The programme tells the story of famous writers who have lived in the South West of England. As well as Coleridge and Southey, these include Jane Austen and Mary Shelley, among others.

This is only the second MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) available through UWE Bristol. Since its launch on 18 June, more than 1,000 people from more than 80 countries worldwide have enrolled.

More information about the free MOOC course can be found here:

Health Tech Hub developing technology to keep people out of hospital

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Businesses in the West of England developing health technology products can now benefit from a new £5 million centre at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). The world-class Health Tech Hub facility at Frenchay campus is focused on advancing technology that enables people to live independently and manage their own health and well-being, thereby ensuring they spend the least possible time in hospital.

The Hub offers companies tailored support for their product development and prototype testing, including access to state-of-the-art technology and specialist support from UWE Bristol academics. It aims to boost regional economic growth, create new regional jobs and international recognition of the vibrant health and life sciences sector in the West of England.

Professor Steven West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol and Chair of the West of England Academic Health Science Network said: “This World Class facility brings together clinicians, scientists and industry experts to solve some of the most challenging issues of health and social care practice. I am convinced that this will deliver tangible results for patients and grow a vibrant health tech cluster and collaboration here in the West of England. It links closely with the ongoing work in diagnostics, robotics and 5G fast data monitoring and transfer in real time 24/7.”

The 900m2 facility is located in UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone, which also houses Bristol Robotics Laboratory, the largest robotics complex in the UK, the Future Space incubator for high-tech start-ups, and the Launch Space innovation incubator for graduate tech start-ups.

Products in development within the facility include next-generation diagnostic wearable biochemical sensors able to detect diseases and monitor patients’ long-term health conditions, as well as highly sensitive, easy-to-use devices for rapid detection of infections for home-use.

Professor Janice Kiely, Co-Director of the Health Tech Hub, said: “Today doctors often give people antibiotics as standard, which are suitable for some patients but not all. The type of technology we are looking at here aims to enable doctors to test the sample there and then, rather than having to send samples off to a lab. This allows them to administer a precise treatment, reducing the global threat of antimicrobial resistance.”

Companies can also benefit from a live-testing apartment within the facility. The fully furnished one-bedroom flat enables engineers to measure the functionality of their products and, using cameras, monitor how people might interact with them while at home. The space will also allow them to evaluate the use of new home diagnostics, for example smart toilets, and new systems for treatment monitoring, as well as activity monitoring and prompting of everyday tasks.

Tech companies can get feedback from the public through focus groups and other user-led evaluation organised within the Health Tech Hub, before they launch them as fully-fledged products.

Other provisions available within the facility will help companies to develop technology related to digital health, which looks at how information about someone’s health is stored, communicated and displayed. Within the cell culture facility, experts can look at the biocompatibility of health technology, for example implantable sensors for unobtrusive, continuous monitoring of indicators of health. While in the genomic laboratory, companies can develop technologies for personalised medicine, which are tailored to the patient according to their genetic make-up.

With its links to industry, the Academic Health Science Network and Medilink, a national network for health technology businesses, the Health Tech Hub can help companies to accelerate commercialisation and adoption into healthcare environments.

For the University, it also provides the opportunity to engage with the local health tech business community and, given its particular expertise in biosensors, diagnostics and independent living technology, participate in knowledge exchange activities.

Professor Richard Luxton, also Co-Director of the Health Tech Hub, said: “A key aspect of this centre is developing relationships with companies, from which we are hoping research projects will develop. Given that there are no large health and life science companies in the Bristol area but 100s of small businesses developing health technology, we are using the Health Tech Hub as a lens to focus that vitality.”

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Health Tech Hub is managed by a consortium led by UWE Bristol. Other partners comprise the Academic Health Science Network, the University of BristolDesignabilitySirona and P3Medical.

For more information on using the facility to develop a product, contact info@healthtech.co.uk, 0117 32 81110.

£6.5m project aims to drive digital innovation in the South West

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A project worth £6.5million is being launched across the South West to expand the use of digital technologies throughout the region’s creative, health and manufacturing sectors.

The new Creative Technology Network will bring together universities and industrial partners, pooling their research and innovation expertise to develop cutting-edge practices, techniques and products in creative digital technologies.

Supported by a grant from RESEARCH ENGLAND, and led by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), the three-year project is a partnership with Watershed in Bristol, Kaleider in Exeter, Bath Spa University, the University of Plymouth and Falmouth University.

UWE Bristol Professor Jon Dovey is leading the project for the DCRC

As new technology, including automation and big data, raises new challenges and opportunities for businesses, this partnership is designed to respond to industry needs across the health and manufacturing sectors and the creative industries, driving productivity and resilience.

The grant is part of RESEARCH ENGLAND’s Connecting Capabilities Fund, which supports university collaboration and encourages commercialisation of products made through partnerships with industry. The funding will kick-start the project, which begins in April.

Professor Martin Boddy, who is Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement at UWE Bristol, said, “We are immensely proud to be taking the lead on this exciting project which builds on UWE Bristol’s vision to work with partners to enhance innovation across the region and nationally. This new network will stimulate the regional economy and will undoubtedly lead to new products and new ways of working, all thanks to shared research experience and technical expertise.”

Professor Jon Dovey, who is Professor of Screen Media at the Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries, and Education at UWE Bristol and leading the project for the Digital Cultures Research Centre (DCRC) said, “This project will bring together the best and the brightest researchers in creative arts, technology and design to work with companies old and new to show what new kinds of value can be unlocked by the application of creative technologies.

“We are going to be working with immersive media, processes of automation and the new availability of big data to support business to find new ways of working with their customers and our citizens. Watch this space for the amazing new products and services we invent in the next three years.”

 

Passenger-carrying drones among us by 2030, says UWE Bristol expert

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Drone technology is in its infancy but in the not-too-distant future we are likely to see unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) perform actions like paint or clean, with the ability to visualise very small items like a hairline fracture in a building structure. This is according to Dr Steve Wright, who is Associate Professor in Aerospace Engineering at UWE Bristol and a drone expert. He also predicts that we could see freight and even passenger-carrying drones by 2030.

But there are still many challenges to overcome before these autonomous aircraft are reliable and trustworthy enough to be an integral part of our society, says Steve. In fact, he believes the technology needs to be improved by a factor of one million before it is safe enough.

The current big challenge is to programme a drone to navigate and fly autonomously through a cluttered environment, like a city, in a safe way, and we are still a long way off.

The MAAXX (Micro Aero Autonomous Extremes Europe) drone racing contest that Steve organises is the second iteration of Europe’s only indoor drone flying contest. The two-day UWE Bristol event on 23-24 March takes place in the University’s exhibition centre and sees several teams programme their UAVs to fly unaided around a designated track, with a hackathon for budding coders to programme a ‘house’ drone provided by the organisers.

As well as a useful day for industry to meet their peers, and a fun day for families (on the second day only), the event also contributes to driving forward the technology. Given they are part of a contest, the teams push drone development to their limits by finding solutions to UAVs veering off course, or not stopping in time.

Previous to his work in academia, Steve worked in the aerospace industry for over two decades. “I look at drones with the eye of someone who for 25 years has been helping to build systems in conventional aircraft and these are exciting times for UAV development.”

He explains that we are at the exact point in history as with conventional aircraft development in 1918 – exactly 100 years ago. Using the comparison, he says: “We are at the equivalent point in time where we know how the Wright Brothers were able to fly their plane, and have already built a Sopwith Camel [a war plane used in the First World War]. We can glimpse what a spitfire looks like, but still have no idea what aircraft will look like in 30 or 40 years.” As a result, we have a clean slate with UAVs, he adds, and still have so much to learn about and improve.

Interestingly, the technology is being developed from the bottom up, says Steve. “Some other similar technologies have been driven from the top down by large corporations, but this one is from the bottom up, by consumers, very much like the early days of the electronics operations.”

As for the future, says Steve, we are moving towards close-up imaging, whereby a drone will soon be able to detect minute structural faults on a bridge or building. We could also soon see drones that clean surfaces such as solar panels in the desert that become covered in sand.

Steve also predicts that as soon as 2030, we are likely to see drones carrying passengers as well as freight over short distances.

His biggest fear about the drone industry? “The trouble is that there are many people who know how to fly a drone and although they are often not reckless, many are unaware of the safety issues.  Those of us involved in the drone industry live in terror that somebody will cause a horrendous accident – this would shut us all down in a single afternoon.”

Launch Space at UWE Bristol attracts 23 graduates start-ups after just six months

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Launch Space, a high-tech business incubator for graduates based at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), has attracted 23 residents since launching in June 2017.

Based in the £16m University Enterprise Zone, Launch Space provides recent graduates from across the UK with free desk space for one year, innovation support and access to UWE Bristol researchers and facilities.

Professor Martin Boddy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement, said, “Launch Space is already becoming a vibrant and inspiring community of hi-tech entrepreneurs. The University is a key innovation hub in the West of England and we are delighted to announce that each business at Launch Space has recently been given the chance to apply for a grant of up to £6,000 to help with research and development.”

Entrepreneurs interacting in UWE Bristol's Launch Space

Current projects based at Launch Space include Tegru, a company developing a face mask for cyclists that includes built-in filter technology designed to reduce intake of harmful particles.

The incubator is also home to Bio Loop, a venture working on a system to convert waste milk into electricity. Run by a graduate from UWE Bristol’s Team Entrepreneurship degree, Bio Loop is working with a dairy company to help process waste milk using microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology to produce electricity. Bio Loop is collaborating with experts on development of a system using MFC technology developed at Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL)*.”

Another start-up is building an app called ‘Bunk’ that acts as an intermediary between landlords and tenants with the aim of improving the rental experience. Bunk will be powered by Blockchain technology, originally designed for the bitcoin digital currency, which allows digital information to be distributed but not copied and removes the need for a middleman in financial transactions. The model moves away from the current cash-heavy deposit system and allows customers to take out a monthly payment plan with an insurance company instead.

Launch Space has also attracted GigaTech, a company designing a configurable MIDI controller for music makers, Seatox, a business making beauty products out of seaweed, and Bonnie Binary, an enterprise developing a ‘soft’ games controller partly made out of textiles.

“For these graduate start-ups, working from this space is an enriching experience, given the flurry of activity around,” said Launch Space Incubation Manager Kim Brookes. “It is also important for the region, because the minute you give opportunity for innovation and creativity to thrive together, you could be creating a new industry, and this promotes the innovation economy”.

Launch Space forms part of a larger UWE Bristol innovation support programme that is receiving up to £2 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Located alongside the Future Space technology incubation centre and the BRL, residents benefit from co-location with other innovative enterprises.

Those wishing to apply for a place at the incubator can do so here. Applicants are required to have a UK based business located or operating in the West of England (Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset. The Launch Space team is on hand to help pre-start enterprise with the process of registered their business.

Plants grown from seeds that orbited earth to go on show at national event

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Tomato and rocket plants grown at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) from seeds that were taken into space in a rocket and orbited the earth, are to feature as part of a research event in London in January 2018 that will bring together leading experts on radiation.

The event in Westminster from 15-17 January 2018, will display findings from a national consortium involved in the UK-wide £5.6m Radioactivity and The Environment (RATE) project. Its aim is to determine how best to safeguard human health from releases of radioactivity from nuclear power plants or nuclear waste repositories.

UWE Bristol is part of the TREE consortium, which won the THE Research Project of the year award in 2016, and will display the plants grown from the seeds as part of its exhibit.

The rocket seeds were sent up with astronauts in a Soyuz space rocket as part of a collaboration between the European Space Agency and the Royal Horticultural Society. They were kept in the International Space Station where British astronaut Tim Peake monitored them for six months. During that time, the seeds were exposed to radiation from cosmic rays that exist in space.

After they were returned to earth in June 2016, UWE Bristol PhD student Nicol Caplin from the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences conducted experiments on the rocket seeds. The objective is to determine the effects of radiation on plant development and whether the seeds ‘remember’ their time orbiting earth and therefore change their growth in response to stressful conditions.

After planting the rocket seeds in early 2017, the University also acquired some tomato seeds in November 2017 that had been taken up to space by the Canadian Space Agency.

Findings from the UWE Bristol tests on both sets of seeds are expected to be revealed in spring 2018.

Professor Neil Willey, who is overseeing the project, said, “The dose of radiation the seeds were exposed to in space is eqivalent to the levels found in some parts of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. As part of our overall research on how radiation affects plants, we wanted to test the seeds in a controlled environment.”

Professor Willey, who is one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of radiation on plants, is one of many researchers involved in the RATE project. “The building of a new generation of nuclear power stations, and the fact that the UK does not have a permanent nuclear waste repository led to this project,” said Professor Willey.

RATE involves three consortia, each examining different parts of the environment such as rocks, sediments and wildlife, which could be affected by increased radiation levels. UWE Bristol researchers are focusing their work on plant species, and have grown plants in the laboratory after applying the same levels of radiation as in Chernobyl. “The problem with a lot of data from Chernobyl is that scientists take individual plant samples and make measurements, but they have no idea what happens to them over several generations under controlled conditions. So we have applied Chernobyl levels of radiation over multiple generations of plants and followed what has happened,” said Professor Willey.

Based on their research, Professor Willey said he and colleagues believe that current reference levels of radiation stipulated by the regulator, in other words the amount of exposure there needs to be before the environmental regulator has to start investigating, do not need to be modified.

The London event for goverment, regulators and industry is organised by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

UK’s complex tax code and complacency leads to more tax avoidance – UWE Professor

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Nicholas Ryder, who is a Professor in Financial Crime at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) says the UK authorities’ ‘lacklustre’ approach to enforcing its financial crime provisions, and a highly complex tax code, has played a significant role in enabling individuals to avoid or evade tax.  Tax evasion expert Sam Bourton (who is an Associate Lecturer in Law at UWE Bristol), agrees that such complexity means a lot of money is siphoned from the City of London.

Once again documents revealing the tax activities of some of the rich and powerful have come to light in the media, after a whistleblower leaked 6.8m documents relating to Appleby, a firm that helps companies set up shop in low-tax jurisdictions. These ‘Paradise Papers’ (so-called because many tax havens are located on paradise-like islands) have led to a media storm, decrying the likes of F1 driver Lewis Hamilton and Apple because of their links to tax avoidance schemes through the firm. Tax avoidance involves by-passing payment of tax legally using loopholes to your advantage, while tax evasion means illegally evading paying tax.

“These schemes might not be a criminal offence per se,” says Ryder, “but ethically speaking, is it right for a multibillion pound company to be avoiding tax, when that money could go to funding a new hospital or a school?”

Ryder explains that a lot of jurisdictions, including the UK, have a flexible taxation system, as this can lead to more investment. It also possesses a highly complex tax code, which is one of the longest in the world. “You could argue that tax avoidance has been indirectly encouraged by government because it has such a complex legal framework that allows people to use loopholes,” says Ryder. “This also means that it’s often difficult to identify whether a business transaction constitutes tax avoidance or tax evasion,” he adds.

Bourton agrees, saying that there is often a connection between many of UK’s overseas territories (like the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands) and London, and this benefits the City. “Often tax advisers set up structures offshore that interact with accounts in London,” says Bourton. She points out that, looking at the data from the Paradise Papers, the UK features towards the top of the list when you look at individuals and companies implicated in tax avoidance.

Both Bourton and Ryder agree that more transparency in tax transactions is needed. “I am concerned about the secrecy that still exists around these tax cases,” says Ryder, commenting on the Paradise Papers. “How do we know that organised criminal gangs are not using these offshore financial centres to hide their proceeds of crime? If they are doing this, they are in effect money laundering, and that’s where they could be prosecuted,” he adds. In this respect, he believes that the UK adopts what he calls a “lacklustre” approach to enforcing its financial crime provisions.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has drawn up and is still developing a set of guidelines to ensure transparency and exchange of information where tax is involved.  But although most jurisdictions have signed up to the OECD standards, implementing them is likely to take several years to complete.

Dunissa: how two psychology students’ food stall helped them prepare for the world of business

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Dunya Elbouni and Melissa Sargeant share a love of cooking and baking. While studying for a degree in psychology at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) they often compared recipes, posting their meals on Instagram and blogging about food, with a dream of one day running their own food-related business.

They never imagined the extent to which the University could support them in setting up such a business enterprise, especially as they were not on a business course.  They were therefore pleasantly surprised to find out about UWE Bristol’s £20 challenge.

The scheme involves the University lending would-be entrepreneurs from any faculty £20 to set up a business with the challenge of generating as much income as possible in a week. Participants can keep any profit they make, with a prize awarded to the most innovative team. Melissa and Dunya took part, setting up a sushi and cupcake stall on the Frenchay campus. Working just two hours a day for four days, the pair made £400 profit and came second in the competition.

DUnissaFollowing their success selling food on campus, Dunya and Melissa were encouraged to apply for the University’s Innovate Internship. This offers budding entrepreneurs with support to set up and run a business venture. Successful candidates are given £1000, provided with desk space (if required), and allocated a mentor who helps them set and achieve goals.

The pair pitched their idea of setting up a food stall at St Nicholas’ Market, based in Bristol’s city centre, as they saw an opportunity to sell fusion Middle Eastern and Malaysian cuisine. Gaining a place on the programme, they used the money to buy cooking and serving equipment, produce flyers, rent the space for a pop-up stall and, of course, to buy the ingredients.

Calling their business ‘Dunissa,’ a contraction of both their names, they served an array of food and drink over a six-week period in the summer. Their fare included halloumi fries, Tabbouleh and meals such as Beef Rendang (a spicy meat dish).

“We definitely learned how hard it is to run a business and it wasn’t as easy as we initially thought,” says Dunya. “I learned a lot about time management, teamwork and the importance of networking and learning from other traders,” she adds. Their allocated mentor had previous experience working with market stall holders. “He taught us about retailers, how to track our business and helped us with the marketing side,” says Melissa. “Most of all, he acted as a sounding board, and helped us with teething problems, given that he had previously encountered some of the issues we came up against,” she adds.

The market stall was a huge success, and running their own business gave them confidence when it came to applying for jobs after graduating in 2017. Melissa subsequently got a job in PepsiCo’s marketing department. “Going into the interview and being able to say that, at such a young age, I had worked as an entrepreneur who handled buying, selling, marketing, and made a profit, gave me the edge,” says Melissa. “Even now when I mention it in the company, it’s very different to what some of the other graduates have done,” she adds.

Dunya, meanwhile, landed a job at Screwfix head office, also working in its marketing department. “A lot of the interest I have for business came from that internship and running our food stall,” says Dunya. “It took us out of our psychology [course] and more into the business field,” she adds.

As well as offering a Team Entrepreneurship business degree course, UWE Bristol actively encourages and supports students wishing to set up business ventures as part of, or alongside their studies. To find out more about these opportunities, click here.

Commuting has Multiple Impacts on Employee Wellbeing

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Blog originally posted on www.whatworkswellbeing.org. 

A study of Commuting and Wellbeing undertaken by Dr Kiron Chatterjee and Dr Ben Clark of the Centre for Transport & Society at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) shows how different modes of transport for commuting affect our wellbeing.   

Many of us spend longer commuting to work than we would like and find our journeys stressful, but how detrimental is commuting to our wellbeing?

The journey to and from work is a routine activity undertaken on about 160 days of the year by those who are full-time employed in England. The average one-way commute time is 30 minutes, hence commuting consumes about one hour per day for the average commuter. However, one in seven travellers has a commute time of one hour or more, spending at least two hours per day going to and from work.

lyon-cycle-laneThe impact of this travelling on our wellbeing has been studied before, but results have been inconclusive and we do not have a complete picture of how commuting affects different aspects of wellbeing.

Chatterjee and Clark’s study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), took advantage of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which tracks the lives of a large, representative sample of households in England. The data set allowed them to examine how changes in different aspects of wellbeing from one year to the next were related to changing commuting circumstances for more than 26,000 workers in England over a five-year period.

As set out in their summary report, they found that, all else being equal, every extra minute of commuting time reduces job satisfaction, reduces leisure time satisfaction, increases strain in people’s lives and worsens mental health.

Job satisfaction (as measured on a 7-point scale) declines with commute time (the exception being the small proportion of workers with extreme commutes of over 90 minutes each way)

The effects of commuting on employee wellbeing were found to vary depending on the mode of transport used to get to work:

  1. Those who walk or cycle to work do not report reductions in leisure time satisfaction in the same way as other commuters, even with the same duration of commute. Presumably, active commuting is seen as a beneficial use of time.
  2. Bus commuters feel the negative impacts of longer journey times more strongly than users of other modes of transport. This could relate to the complexity of longer journeys by bus.
  3. Meanwhile, longer duration commutes by rail are associated with less strain than shorter commutes by rail. The researchers believe this is explained by those on longer train journeys being more likely to get a seat and to have comfortable conditions to relax or even to work.
  4. Those who work from home are found to have higher job satisfaction and leisure time satisfaction, but working from home is clearly not possible for everyone on a daily basis.

Their findings have particularly important implications for employers.  An additional 20 minutes of commuting each day was found (on average) to have the equivalent effect on job satisfaction as a 19% reduction in income – this is a loss of £4,080 per annum for someone earning £21,600 (the median value for our sample).  They found a gender difference for this result with longer commute times having a more negative impact on women’s job satisfaction than men’s. This is likely to be related to the greater household and family responsibilities that women tend to have. They also found that employees with longer commute times are more likely to change job, and this has implications for employee retention.

The overall message for employers is that job satisfaction can be improved if workers have opportunities to reduce their time spent commuting, to work from home, and/or to walk or cycle to work – such commuting opportunities are likely to be good news for employee wellbeing and retention and hence reduce costs to businesses.

Whilst Chatterjee and Clark found that longer commute times have adverse wellbeing effects for job satisfaction, and even more markedly for leisure time satisfaction, they were not found to have a large impact on life satisfaction overall. Their analysis showed that this is because longer commute times are taken on for jobs which provide higher salaries and other benefits which serve to increase life satisfaction.

This does not mean that the negative wellbeing impacts of longer commutes can be disregarded. It is important to recognise the negative impacts on job satisfaction, leisure time satisfaction and mental health. People are only likely to continue to accept that a long commute is a price to pay if it is unavoidable and a social norm.

The Commuting & Wellbeing study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (Grant Number ES/N012429/1). The project was led by Dr Kiron Chatterjee at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and ran for eighteen months from February 2016 to July 2017. A summary report from the study is available at https://travelbehaviour.com/outputs-commuting-wellbeing/