Size does not matter for the arts 1

January 31, 2003

The government wrongly equates research excellence with institutional concentration in its Future of Higher Education white paper ( THES , January 24). In doing so, it risks imposing a model drawn from the sciences on to scholarly activity for which it is far less relevant. For researchers who do not work in permanent teams and whose work involves domestic and international networks that may vary by time or by project, physical proximity to "like-minded" researchers is neither crucial nor always possible. Electronic communication has circumvented many of the difficulties of geographical distance.

The research assessment exercise has demonstrated how widespread research and scholarship of national or international quality is, including in institutions where such activity may be thin on the ground. Indeed, cutting-edge research in the social sciences has often come from non-traditional universities. The sector benefits from this breadth because intellectual work improves when there are different people to talk to, listen to and read. While research-intensive institutions could benefit from extra resources in the short term, we all lose out from a competitive concentrated model of research that allows the rich diversity of scholarship to decline.

Davina Cooper
Keele University

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