Brown: let's see how UK elite measures up

July 16, 2004

An international league table of universities should be drawn up to show how Britain's research-intensive institutions compare with the rest of the world, according to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, writes Paul Hill.

The Treasury has called for "benchmarking" of the performance of Russell Group universities against leading institutions overseas in its detailed response to the Lambert report on university and industry links published this week.

Mr Brown suggested that an international league table be compiled by an independent or private body, such as the Sutton Trust, to measure the performance of universities "in a number of fields".

The proposal was greeted with concern by Sir Michael Sterling, chairman of the Russell Group, who said that universities would support the idea of gathering performance data but would balk at a league table that was prone to "distortion" or misinterpretation.

Sir Michael said: "We're not keen on the idea of the Russell Group validating an international league table - making international comparisons is a more complicated process than that.

"However, benchmarking is useful and helps institutions to develop."

The Treasury has accepted a number of the key recommendations of the Lambert report - which was compiled by Richard Lambert, a former editor of the Financial Times - including the provision of a "permanent" third stream of funding to support university and business collaboration.

The Chancellor's pledge that the existing Higher Education Innovation Fund will total £110 million a year by 2007-08 falls at the bottom end of the "£100 million to £200 million a year" recommended by Mr Lambert.

At the heart of the Treasury's response to the Lambert report is a greater role for regional development agencies in encouraging links between industry and higher education.

Collaboration between universities and industries in the regions is to become an official measure of the performance of RDAs, each of which will be expected to establish regional science and industry councils that will be expected to forge links.

Universities UK said that it had "consistently argued that RDAs have too little ability and knowledge of higher education" to be responsible for distributing funding.

A UUK spokeswoman said: "What we can be glad about is the fact that the Government acknowledges that RDAs need to develop both their capacity and their ability to deliver their knowledge-transfer role effectively - this is at least recognition that there are improvements to be made."

Nevertheless, as The Times Higher revealed in May, Mr Lambert has been asked to chair a new working group that will draft model research contracts and standard paperwork to help speed up deals between universities and industry.

The Treasury has also accepted the recommendation that universities avoid putting too onerous training demands on industry experts who could serve as visiting or part-time lecturers and to make greater use of "alumni networks" to identify collaborative projects.

The Government would also work with universities to "identify long-term career paths" for academics who wish to specialise in working with industry, the Treasury said.

Universities were also urged to create a database of academics who are interested in serving as non-executive directors of British businesses.

The Treasury added that by 2006 institutions should publish detailed information about graduate employment and salary prospects in prospectuses.

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