Victorian valuations

July 22, 2010

The debate about funding research-intensive universities ignores commonplace 21st-century working practices ("Truth in numbers: study pinpoints 'critical mass' for research success", 8 July). My social science-based research group is a network of academics based around the world in different universities, companies and other organisations. Many of us have worked together since 1984, yet rarely at the same institution. We work as a normal research group, meeting face to face or virtually, sharing ideas, challenging each other, collaborating on research and publishing together - it is irrelevant which organisation employs us.

During this period I have worked at the universities of Cambridge, Brunel and what is now Bedfordshire (very different institutions), two central government organisations, an independent research body and a secondary school. My research focus has remained the same.

We have no problem with demonstrating the impact of our research - it is experienced by any teacher who uses online resources and various technologies in their work, and web statistics about users and book sales can easily demonstrate the reach of our ideas. Our difficulty concerns those with a 19th-century vision of academic practice who decide what does and does not count.

We are currently planning a world symposium in June 2011 to bring together others to share knowledge about our field. Anyone who wants to learn how to stay at the leading edge of a field is welcome to come and judge the power of our distributed research group.

So please, can those considering how to evaluate and fund research remember that we are living in the 21st century, when virtual working is as easy as dealing with someone in the same room.

Marilyn Leask, Professor of education, Brunel University (West London).

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