3 January 2014 15:34

A prestigious lifetime achievement award is testament to the teams who have, over 50 years, placed and retained Lancaster University firmly on the map for Operational Research.

Distinguished Professor of Operational Research in Lancaster University Management School Kevin Glazebrook has received the Beale Medal, the Operational Research Society’s top award.

The Medal is presented in recognition of a ‘sustained contribution over many years’ to the theory, practice or philosophy of Operational Research (OR) in the UK and the excellence of his work.

Operational Research is the application of advanced analytical techniques to improve management decision-making.

The award citation refers to Professor Glazebrook’s ‘significant influence’ on the support and development of Operational Research in the UK.

Modestly, Professor Glazebrook views his award, received recently in London, as a mark of achievement for the passionate and dedicated teams involved in three key enterprising OR initiatives that have earned Lancaster University recognition.

Although Lancaster has been a national leader in OR for some considerable time (it was actually a founding subject for the university despite being a somewhat new discipline), a new phase of this remarkable story of achievement started in 2004.

That was the year when an International Review of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Review identified too few people working on the theoretical side of OR and not enough researchers being trained.

Professor Glazebrook, who came to Lancaster in 2005, stepped into the spotlight, against a UK-wide backdrop of considerable discouragement. Simultaneously, the EPSRC set aside a pot of money for taught course development for PhD students.

“I was convinced there should be a national taught course centre for Operational Research and I, and several Lancaster colleagues, invited universities across the UK to a meeting to discuss it further,” said Professor Glazebrook, previously at Newcastle University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics before moving to Edinburgh as Professor of Management Science.

“I remember that meeting vividly. There was considerable doubt expressed about the viability of the project or that we could secure any Research Council funding for it. We managed to convince people of the importance of working together.”

Lancaster, Cardiff, Southampton, Brunel, Warwick and Nottingham Universities subsequently came together as a consortium and the National Taught Course Centre in Operational Research (NATCOR) was born.

“It was a huge success and we got the EPSRC funding,” added Professor Glazebrook, who was Director for six years. He stepped down last year after securing follow-up funding.

 “The EPSRC really liked what we were doing and so did the students. It was something different and our students particularly enjoyed the opportunity to network. To do something important in a national sense you must work with other people, pull resources together and take the best expertise from different areas. That’s what we did.”

The second significant initiative, which created enormous impact, also resulted from the 2004 review and its identification of a lack of research capability in foundational OR.

It was fellow NATCOR members, Lancaster, Nottingham, Cardiff and Southampton Universities (cleverly known as LANCS) who then rose to the challenge and submitted a proposal to strengthen and expand  research capability.

“We faced tough competition and had to make a case for our discipline as well as the consortium’s ability to really build research capability,” said Professor Glazebrook.

The bid was successful in attracting £5.4 million EPSRC funding towards the £13 million total cost of the five-year Science and Innovation initiative. The rest of the money came from the four partner universities and represented a major commitment on their part.

“This injected life into the discipline nationally,” added Professor Glazebrook, who took up the role of Director, “and it created an array of jobs and the capacity to really build research capability.

“It has been a real catalyst. The idea was that this would strengthen a more confidant discipline capable of carving out its own future.

“I was keen for people to realise they could shoot for the stars and have a go so I am really encouraged to see that happening. Operational Research at Lancaster has been tremendously strengthened and grown substantially. We are seen as national leaders in the discipline and our international profile has developed very considerably.”

The third significant initiative was the development of STOR-i, the EPSRC-funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Statistics and Operational Research, of which Professor Glazebrook is chairman, with Professors Jon Tawn and Idris Eckley completing STOR-i’s leadership team.

A past challenge had been encouraging bright, entrepreneurial graduates to invest in another three or four years undertaking a PhD.

“We struggled to convince these graduates, who wanted to be out there earning serious money, that the theoretical side was really worthwhile. It was a real challenge.”

But Lancaster University recognised and seized another golden opportunity when EPSRC, the main PhD funding body, decided half their doctoral training investment should be directed to centres where students would learn in cohorts and develop a broad range of skills along with scientific excellence.

A joint venture between Lancaster’s Mathematics and Statistics and the Management Science Departments submitted a winning bid to set up a £4.5 million doctoral training centre at Lancaster.

“There was a strong emphasis on research and industrial collaboration,” explained Professor Glazebrook. “The funding was for 40 students. That was absolutely brilliant and we recruited amazingly talented students attracted by the entrepreneurial nature of the centre and work with external partners.

“They know the research they do will really make a difference because we have such strong external links with industry. I have simply been bowled over by the quality of students we have been able to attract.”

The centre has just learned that 2014 will see further funding for 60 students.

“This is really changing how people view doctoral training in our area,” he added. “It’s all very exciting with companies like IBM, BT, Shell and Astra Zeneca as major players. These companies really want the people we are developing.”

Professor Glazebrook, who has published extensively in  top academic journals world-wide and has co-authored two books, praised Lancaster University’s upper echelons for their commitment to all three initiatives.

Not surprisingly, with such a great track record in OR, Professor Glazebrook is the second Lancaster University Professor to receive this medal. Emeritus Professor Peter Checkland received the Beale Medal in 2006.