Little and large

Added by Stephane Goldstein on 03 February 2009 14:08

Much has been made, following the RAE2008 announcement at the end of last year, about the challenge of funding the aspirations of the large research-intensive institutions (Russell Group et al) as well as the ambitions of the smaller HEIs with pockets of research excellence scattered across the land. Alarm bells have been ringing about the supposed dangers of ending the concentration of research in a small number of elite bodies. This could be the "biggest shift in research funding policy for 20 years", as reported in Times Higher Education last month.

A bit late in the day as usual, I’ve just read the information published by HEFCE setting out the general terms of the financial settlement to the sector. This offers some clues about how the Government would like to address the possible dilution of the UK’s research competitiveness. In his letter of 18 January to HEFCE Chair Tim Melville-Ross, the Secreatary of State, John Denham, requests HEFCE "to work with the sector to explore ways to encourage collaboration between institutions with the largest volumes of world-class research and those with smaller pockets of excellence. This will enable our HEIs to respond to strong research competition from around the world, sustaining and growing major, world-class capability in institutions - and groups of institutions - that demonstrate high levels of excellence across a broad range of STEM subjects and other disciplines."

Following on from this, HEFCE’s circular of 28 January to HEIs states that "we intend to consider over the coming months how we might encourage institutions with small excellent units to form collaborative links with larger departments in their field in another HEI wherever this is possible."

So now we know. Little and large will be cordially invited to work together with a view to maximising the return on public investment. In principle, this is sound common sense - and one or two lessons might be learned from Scotland, which has been at it for four or five years. It remains to be seen what form the "encouragement" might take, and how HEFCE intends to formulate its ideas. From RIN’s perspective, we are curious about whether this proposed collective approach will also be extended to information services.

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