City launches talent search in its bid to join the big time

Hiring spree aims to boost research performance to level of 1994 Group. Jack Grove reports

December 1, 2011

City University London has signalled its intention to become a research-intensive university on a par with 1994 Group institutions with a major recruitment drive.

Twenty-five new professors with "outstanding records of research", 25 lecturers and 50 fully funded doctoral students are being sought by City to start next autumn.

The appointment of the new professors and associated staff is part of a strategic plan, agreed by the university board in March, to focus on academic excellence and research.

With top research staff in place, the university believes it will be able to bolster its performance in the research excellence framework in 2014.

Good graduate job prospects, higher entry requirements for students and a strengthened academic reputation will also help to secure City a place in the top 2 per cent of universities in the world by 2016, said Paul Curran, the university's vice-chancellor.

"We aim to be the only university in London that is both committed to academic excellence and focused on business and the professions," Professor Curran told Times Higher Education.

"We are going to do this by investing in staff, IT and buildings - in that order. We are looking for research-excellent academics in our areas of strength and potential."

He said the hiring spree, which is a tactic being pursued by several other universities as they begin to gear up for the REF, was the second round of recruitment by City - the first, for 48 new academic staff, was just coming to an end.

"It is certainly an exciting time because this represents investment by our council in the university's staffing base, which is extremely welcome," the vice-chancellor said.

The expansion - a 14 per cent increase in City's 700-strong staff - comes at a time of uncertainty for the sector, which is facing a potential drop in student numbers in 2012 when maximum tuition fees will nearly treble to £9,000 a year.

While some are responding by bolstering their staff, others are cutting jobs and courses.

City will charge £9,000 for all undergraduate courses from next year, offering bursaries and scholarships to poorer students. But Professor Curran was confident that demand for its courses would remain strong.

In the university's strategic vision document, he explains that "academic reputation plus employability [will have] even greater appeal in a post-2012 funding environment".

"Whenever you make changes there are risks involved, but we have plans in place to mitigate them," he told THE.

Among the new staff being sought are four professors in finance, four in management, two in economics and two in law, reflecting the university's strong links to business. Other chairs will include optometry, actuarial science, speech and language therapy and health services.

Founded in 1894 as the Northampton Institute, a technical college, City now has more than 21,000 students, 35 per cent of whom are postgraduates.

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