The University of Salford is a public research university – an establishment rooted in 1850 in Greater Manchester, England. It is organized in four schools including, School of Arts, Media, and Creative Technology (SAMCT). The Research Excellence Framework (REF) report of the UK’s higher education 2021, rated Salford’s research impact as overall 94% as world-leading or internationally excellent.
In this edition, we have Dr. Alan E. Williams, Professor of Collaborative Composition, who is a distinguished senior faculty of Salford’s School of Arts, Media, and Creative Technology to discuss the school’s latest pioneering field.
Please tell us about Salford’s School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology, and the role it plays locally, nationally, and internationally.
AW: Salford’s SAMCT is a large school, making up about a fifth of the university with nearly 5000 students organized into groups of subjects covering the arts and creative industries. We offer a wide range of specialist degree programmes but also highly value interdisciplinary work – staff and students working together on creative projects coming from different disciplinary areas, for example. We’re one of the largest centers in the Higher Education sector for these kinds of subjects, and we’re placed on the doorstep of the biggest hub for digital creativity and media outside London – Media City UK – and this attracts students from all over the country and internationally, as well as offering opportunities for students from closer at hand in the city region of Salford/Manchester.
In recent years, we hear the phrase “Research with Impact”, more and more, and it seems universities are taking new directions or measures to ensure a researcher’s end product is or will be impactful. Even universities like Cambridge, in the UK, or Stanford, in the United States are suggesting ways for commercializing postgrad research outcomes. Where does Salford stand on that?
AW: I think that commercial exploitation of research and research impact are really two different things. In the end, universities in the UK are publicly funded, so the knowledge they create should really be useful to society and have a positive impact on policy, planning, the environment, and so on. We should be – and are – creating knowledge outcomes that make our communities better places to live, and while that might be achieved through profit-making companies, in the UK at least, making positive impacts on society is much more likely to be achieved through sharing our knowledge on a non-profit basis.
Speaking of research with impact, in your professional and academic view, are academic theories and theoretical research enough to put a mark on issues facing humanity? What was the reason for Salford to think of developing ‘Practice as Research’ as an awarding route for advanced degrees?
AW: Practice as Research (PaR) is something we’ve always specialized in, since before it acquired the name at other universities. Because many of our staff are practice-based researchers, it’s natural that we should become a center of specialization in this area for postgraduate research degrees. I myself am a practicing composer of music in a wide variety of media, and employ PaR methods in that I make work, then derive knowledge from the processes of making the work. Of the 18 students I’ve successfully supervised to Ph.D., the vast majority have been practice-based researchers. Theoretical research is important in that it gives a framework of meaning to what one might do in practice, but there are also knowledge outcomes that can only emerge through making work – through practice, in other words.
The University of Salford recently announced that it conferred the world’s first ever practiced-based PhD by Published Works in the field of Cultural Diplomacy to Dr. Mosi Dorbayani from Canada. You were the lead supervisor for that project. What made you interested in that subject matter?
AW: Well, initially, it was a challenge! It was clear that this was a highly original proposal, and I wasn’t sure initially that we could make it work. But interdisciplinary projects always involve this kind of uncertainty – if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be interdisciplinary in the true sense of the word, which I think means enabling two disciplines to learn to talk each others’ languages. For example, the idea of music’s impact functioning on a global level through the message song hadn’t been discussed in the academic literature in music, and that in itself made the topic worth pursuing.
How different, if any, was supervising this project from others? Tell us about your experience with the project.
AW: Dr. Dorbayani’s commentary or thesis consists of five project outputs: two published books, and three released message songs. It was different to my usual PaR supervisions in that I had virtually nothing to say about the songs themselves as compositions. It’s not part of the remit of the project to comment – for example – on the complexity or otherwise of harmony – since the songs already existed in the world. What was more important was to understand them as units of cultural transmission, which depended on their effectiveness on their reception and spread within a very ‘non-academic’ audience. My role was more to advise on the presentation of that idea and how to think about their identity through cultural studies’ theoretical framework. But I was also working on capturing data for research impact at the time, so I was able to advise on how to do that as well.
Clearly, receiving the first ever practice-based highest academic degree in Cultural Diplomacy from Salford not only gives additional authority in the field to Dr. Dorbayani, but also it creates a legacy for you. How would you like to see this go further? What could be the next for this particular field of study or research both inside and outside University of Salford?
AW: I think the next thing will be to bring together people from music, business studies, political science and sociology (and areas in between) to think about questions of value and societal impact in music and creative industry, and to see if there’s more work that can be done here. It’s been exciting developing the rudiments of a common terminology that makes sense of the message song and its role in cultural diplomacy, but it was mainly the two of us developing this language. It’s time to expand.
- Salford’s Practice as Research: https://hub.salford.ac.uk/amc-practice-as-research/
- World’s First Ever Practice-based PhD in Cultural Diplomacy: https://blogs.salford.ac.uk/research/2022/07/06/the-worlds-first-ever-practice-based-phd-in-cultural-diplomacy-is-awarded-by-the-university-of-salford/
- Salford’s Doctoral School: https://www.salford.ac.uk/doctoral-school