After John and Paul, picture this alliance

October 18, 2002

The recently discovered cache of previously unpublished photographs of The Beatles at Dundee University is also a treasure trove for its sister university across the Tay, St Andrews.

Two years ago, the institutions launched a "Promoting Partnership" initiative, encouraging staff to work with colleagues in the partner university. One resulting venture is a new MLitt in the history and practice of photography, uniting the study of the history of photography at St Andrews with photographic practice at Dundee's Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

The Beatles photographs, part of a collection donated to Dundee by the family of photojournalist Michael Peto, will be part of the jointly taught one-year course.

Laura Meagher, coordinator of the initiative, believes the new masters course will appeal to graduates at each university. "The photographic practice people will want to know about the context of what they're doing, and the history students will like to know how to do these things."

St Andrews and Dundee were a single university until 1967. The divorce between St Andrews and its former Queen's College was acrimonious, and although the intervening 35 years have soothed relations, both parties said that remarriage was not on the cards.

"We set this up as an alternative to merger," Dr Meagher said. "Merger didn't seem to make sense. They're two very different institutions, and it would present a huge management challenge. But we definitely saw a gain in using our common strengths."

The initiative is backed by £315,000 from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's strategic change grant. Shefc is actively promoting different types of collaboration between institutions, and the Dundee-St Andrews move is expected to inspire others.

Dr Meagher said. "It's the marrying of wonderful ideas in the academic conceptual sense with step-by-step mechanisms of how you make something happen. For example, here are ways to do your market research to see if anybody wants to do this course, how to develop a marketing and fund-raising strategy."

The institutions stressed that nothing was being imposed by management, and collaboration should be bottom-up. The aim is for academics to get together to pinpoint emerging areas in which their combined expertise will give them the edge. The keenest interest so far has been in setting up masters courses, including a one-year master of research in environmental biology, which has attracted more than £400,000 from the Natural Environmental Research Council for fellowships.

David Boxer, deputy principal of Dundee and convener of the partnership group on biological sciences, said: "Alone, neither university could cater for a wide-scope specialist degree of this nature, but together we combine our expertise and resources to develop an excellent programme ranging right across the field of environmental biology from zoology and marine biology to plant sciences."

The universities take turns to be lead institution in terms of managing student entries, but students matriculate at both universities, with access to all facilities, including libraries and student unions. They gain a joint degree but are free to choose which graduation ceremony they attend. All fees are put in a common pot, from which expenses other than teaching costs are taken. The remainder is then divided according to the proportionate effort put into teaching by each university.

Projects in the pipeline include a joint institute on the social dimensions of health and a feasibility study of what help can be given to the creative industries. Collaboration goes beyond the academic: there are also moves for "isolated specialists", such as archivists, to work together.

And the two staff development teams have initiated a course beginning in December for senior administrative and support staff whose work often goes beyond their job description. These staff will have the chance to take a certificate course in which they will learn management skills. This will include a project to solve a problem in the sister university, letting them see how another institution operates. "We will watch out for promotion opportunities for these people," Dr Meagher said.

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