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Putting an End to University Research?

Author: 
Chris Satori
An article in subtext (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/) notes that Lancaster University Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings has been advising the government to close down research funding to Lancaster and have it as primarily just a teaching establishment, if one can read clearly between the lines of his recent report to John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Earlier in the year, subtext editors record, Prof. Wellings was approached by Denham to give strategic advice on 'how universities should manage IP for their own benefit and for the wider economy'. Intellectual Property rights relate to the royalties that may be earned by research from its commercial applications. At the end of September the prof delivered his report - the remit letter and final report can be downloaded from www.dius.gov.uk/policy/intellectual_property.html.

An interview with Prof. Wellings published in the Times Higher Education (THE) supplement of 27 November focuses on section four of the report, which dealt most closely with 'the connection between research students and graduate schools and good IP generation and exploitation' (http://tinyurl.com/5m6ln2). In this section he recommends that the government target postgraduate training funds on those institutions with larger graduate schools, which also tend to be those with better records of research commercialisation.

In the THE article the V-C is paraphrased as saying that "the sector should continue to diversify so that by 2020 each Region has just one or two major graduate schools." So in the North West Region, for example, there would presumably be only one or two 'research' universities to take all the research income and all the PhDs, with all the others concentrating on teaching.

The V-C has paid a lot of attention to getting Lancaster University up the League Tables and the University website proclaims Lancaster to be "one of the top 'research star' universities in the UK, with the 3rd highest research income and the 2nd highest number of Phds in proportion to academic staff costs."

However, in the table that accompanies the THE article (available from a link in the right hand column of the online version) Manchester and Liverpool are unsurprisingly identified as the two universities that produce by far the most PhDs in our Northwest Region. Similarly, in a table on pp. 24-7 of the V-C's report, Lancaster comes third after Manchester and Liverpool in the NW on all metrics except IP income, where it is way outstripped by Chester (why is that, by the way?).

The separation of research from teaching is a move that would disembowel the higher education system, making it impossible for the vast majority of students to experience high quality research methodologies. It would, however, mean that all research could be concentrated where it could be more easily monitered, regulated and budget prioritised from a central point according to its commercial viability, with reduced responsiveness to local needs.

Along with many other regional university cities Lancaster would receive a major economic blow from the relegation of the University to a secondary, teaching-only establishment, and would most likely turn its focus to attracting overseas students, less likely to invest their energy into the city. Do the futures of Infolab and the proposed Science Park hang in the balance?
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