Appliance of science (and arts) the key to recruitment

Bath v-c tells Simon Baker how appointment strategy is vital to sector's long-term health

October 20, 2011

With universities across England bracing themselves for potential hits to their teaching income in the next few years, now may seem an unusual time to spend thousands of pounds creating several new academic posts.

But for Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, such a strategy is vital not only for her institution, but also for the long-term future of British higher education.

As the impact agenda takes hold in research funding, Bath is in the process of making a dozen eye-catching appointments, deliberately recruiting world-leading academics with a track record of public engagement in vital policy areas.

Professor Breakwell said the university was targeting not simply "great researchers" but also those who are solving "problems that matter" and could help communicate Bath's work to the public.

One example is Paul Gregg, the institution's newly appointed professor of economic and social policy, who advised the previous government on welfare reform and is now part of a commission tackling youth unemployment.

Another is international security expert Paul Cornish, formerly based at foreign affairs institute Chatham House and a member of the chief of the defence staff's strategic advisory panel, while a third is Michael Adams, a specialist in insurance markets who will head Bath's new Centre for Strategic Risk.

Meanwhile in mathematics, the institution has recruited Paul Milewski from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, who specialises in wave modelling and fluid dynamics (although his arrival predates the most recent appointments push).

Bath may have an eye on the upcoming research excellence framework and its impact measure, but Professor Breakwell said that while this was a "fashionable issue", the university had always viewed applied knowledge as important.

"I believe very strongly that universities have got to engage the public in the science and research that they're doing," she said.

The appointments were about the "long-term development" of Bath, she added, creating "a virtuous circle" that would bolster its reputation.

"At a time when some places are shrinking their efforts, I think it is really important for those of us that have the financial robustness to expand our activity to do that."

Professor Breakwell hinted that the appointments required substantial resources given the competitive "market rate" for such academics. But Bath can afford it: it scored one of the biggest surpluses in the sector in 2009-10.

She also insisted that Bath's current body of academics would bene-fit from the strategy and would not be "squeezed out": "This is not an alternative to people internally being promoted. It is in addition to what we would be expecting to happen for people and their progression."

simon.baker@tsleducation.com.

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