Dynamic duo head south

December 15, 1995

(Photograph) - Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson, the leading education and employment researchers, are moving their research centre from Manchester University's faculty of education to Brunel University in Middlesex.

Professor Smithers says the break with Manchester has been "amicable" although negotiations leading up to it were made difficult by implications for the grade 5 research rating of the institution's education faculty. He said: "Manchester has a very large education department and we are only one of the contributors to the rating. But our grade 5 will now be shown as part of Brunel's returns."

In March, Professor Smithers's Centre for Education and Employment will become part of Brunel's new school of education. He says: "We think we can achieve more at Brunel than at Manchester. I would like the remaining ten years of my career to be as fruitful as possible."

A big factor in the decision to move was the offer by Brunel to "properly fund" the centre and create a permanent post for his colleague Dr Robinson. He said: "At Manchester we have very much relied on external funding. It has meant that for the past 15 years we have been surviving hand-to-mouth. Too much of our effort has been directed at securing funds."

Dr Robinson says that having her salary dependent on securing research contracts has been a "straitjacket" that has helped to restrict the creativity of work at the centre: "A permanent salaried post for me at Brunel is a superb bonus. It is going to be a shot in the arm to be going to a new department".

At Brunel, the aim will be to create the right balance between external and internal funding for the centre, says Professor Smithers. This should allow the two to take on more risky projects which have the potential to be financially and intellectually profitable. "At the moment I just have a sequence of contracts which we aim to fulfil to time and quality but they are not all necessarily our first choice. " He says that the centre's bids for contract research have become more expensive in recent years because of rising infrastructure and staff costs: "Some sponsors have said that they would be able to put more money into the centre if only we were more competitive in our costs. At Brunel we will have a backbone of support from the university and we should actually be able to earn more than we are now. I'll be very disappointed if we don't show a profit for Brunel within five years."

Professor Smithers also says that Manchester's faculty of education has recently shifted direction towards education issues in the third world and that this has left his centre a little out of place.

"Of course, third world education is extremely important. But our centre's work deals with employment and education in advanced industrial nations, particularly British education and how it compares with the rest of the European Union, the Pacific Rim nations and countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the US. The educational needs of these countries are very different to those for Africa and less developed regions of the former Soviet Union."

Linda Thomas, head of the school of education at Brunel, says that the centre will provide a "strong focal point" for the school, feeding its research findings and policy recommendations into the school's teaching activities.

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