Department of Mathematical Sciences

Working with Mongolia to deliver impact for data science, health and policy

Fri Dec 16 14:37:00 GMT 2016

In November, a group of staff and students representing the Department of Mathematical Sciences, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Statistical Applied Mathematics (SAMBa), the Institute of Policy Research (IPR) and the Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) travelled to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for a 5-day International Research Collaboration Initiative.

The visitors delivered a short course on using data science and statistics in research and explored potential research collaborations with academics and policy makers in Ulaanbaatar.

mongolia-studentsThe data science course was led by Professor Gavin Shaddick, co-director of SAMBa and deputy Director of IMI and delivered by four SAMBa students, Aoibheann Brady, Robbie Peck, Adwaye Rambojun, and Matthew Thomas, along with Gavin and Dr Daniel Simpson, from Mathematical Sciences. 130 people attended the course for three days, learning techniques in using the R statistical package and even running some analysis on data they brought with them. Robbie has written a blog about his experience.

As well as the data course, there ran a series of workshops and meetings with governmental departments and think tanks. This part of the initiative grew out of a long-standing relationship that Professor Andreas Kyprianou has with Mongolia and the National University of Mongolia. Alongside Andreas, Gavin and Dan, participants from Bath were Professor Julie Barnett from the Department of Psychology and the IPR, Professor Paul Milewski from Mathematical Sciences, and Dr Susie Douglas from SAMBa.

Workshops were held in the areas of air pollution, mining, epidemiology and public health, and ecology. These were attended by researchers from across the National University of Mongolia and the Mongolian Institute of Science and Technology including the departments of Mathematics, Ecology, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering and Economics, as well as people from Government agencies, industry, and think tanks.

There were also a number of visits by the group from Bath to Government departments and public offices such as the Ministry for Health, Institute of Economics, Institute of Education, National Centre for Communicable Diseases, and Institute for National Strategy.

Air pollution

The recurring theme through all of these discussions was the problem of air pollution in Mongolia and its effect on health. Mongolia, and Ulaanbaatar in particular, is one of the places that suffers the most from very high levels of ambient air pollution.

During the meetings, the full spectrum of the issue of air pollution was discussed, from data to decisions to development. Collaborations are already underway to explore all of these areas and it is hoped that the early discussions will very soon lead to real change for people living in Ulaanbaatar.

Julie Barnett, Professor of Health Psychology said: “This visit was a fantastic opportunity to work alongside the Maths Department to explore challenges to both science and policy in Mongolia. This visit represented interdisciplinary collaboration at its best, where each discipline recognises the value of others. 

“The welcome, support and appetite to collaborate from our Mongolian colleagues was outstanding.”

Professor Otgonbayar Uuye, from the Institute of Mathematics at the National University of Mongolia, said: “I see the visit as the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Mongolian academic and governmental institutions and the University of Bath.

“The course on statistics was hugely successful, and it is my sincere belief that it will have lasting impact in terms of improved research outcome.

“The collaboration that is building around air pollution is also very exciting. Air pollution is a pressing issue that seriously affects more than a million people in Ulaanbaatar alone. The planned full chain analysis of air pollution will be invaluable to all parties involved, including decision makers and the public.”