Headhunters get Wellcome aid

January 31, 2003

It's your annual subject conference and it's somewhere nice and sunny. But the hottest thing there is a young postdoctoral researcher who just delivered a paper. You want him on your research team and you want him now.

But funds in your department are tight, and by the time you have applied for a research council grant, you know he'll have been snapped up by the University of Poppleton.

Mike Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, has been in such a situation, and the experience led him to set up the trust's £30 million Value in People awards, launched this week.

"The VIP funds give responsibility and responsiveness back to universities," he said. "It will enable universities to rapidly respond to opportunities that require modest amounts of money."

The trust has awarded sums of up to £250,000 to its top-funded institutions to help with recruitment, career progression and retention of academic and research staff.

The cash could provide bridging funds until a university post or fellowship became available, help plug a gap between contracts or give short-term funding for non-biologists to work in biomedicine. It cannot fund individuals for more than a year or be used to top up salaries or support PhD students. In exchange, universities will have to report annually on how they have spent the money.

Ten universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Dundee, will get £250,000. Ten others will receive £150,000 and seven will be given £100,000.

Manchester University vice-chancellor Sir Martin Harris described the scheme as "imaginative". He said: "It will assist us greatly in persuading young people to enter a research career, to relocate to the UK from elsewhere in the world and to re-enter research after a career break. It is hugely welcome."

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