Jobwatch: Queen's bid for top 20

June 25, 2004

Northern Ireland universities face difficulties in fundraising due to the lack of big industries in the Province, but Queen's University Belfast has not let this deter it from aiming for the top.

Queen's University Belfast is recruiting more than 30 senior academics as part of a £130 million investment in infrastructure and jobs. The full-page advertisement in this week's Times Higher is similar to previous large-scale recruitment drives by universities such as Nottingham, Durham and Queen Mary, University of London.

The positions being advertised include chairs and lectureships across 13 schools in the five faculties of engineering, science and agriculture, legal, social and educational sciences, humanities, and medicine and health sciences.

Ken Brown, pro vice-chancellor for academic planning and resources, said the positions constituted the first phase, and a further 15 jobs would be available in the next academic year. The posts reflect developments in a number of disciplines made possible by Capability Funding in Northern Ireland, he said, along with a review of research priorities following the postponement of the next research assessment exercise.

Sir George Bain, who became vice-chancellor in 1997, was responsible for dramatically improving the university's RAE performance in 2001, but Professor Brown said Queen's could not afford to stand still.

"It would be foolish to say we have arrived, but we are determined to drive further forwards - our ambition is to be in the top 20," he said.

Particular emphasis is being placed on interdisciplinary research through seven centres that have been set up. One of the highest-profile ones is the Pounds 4.5 million Sonic Arts Research Centre, launched in October 2001.

Professor Brown said it brought together staff from music, electrical and electronic engineering and computer science and has quickly become the leading research facility of its kind in Europe.

While the "Campaign for Queen's" has proved very successful and made it one of the UK's most successful fundraising universities, Professor Brown said the institution faced difficulties due to the lack of big industry in Northern Ireland and its relatively low-wage economy dominated by government employers.

"Some sources of funding are not as easy for us to secure as universities in cities such as Manchester or Newcastle," he explained.

"But we are determined to ensure that Northern Ireland has at least one world-class university."

The centrepiece of the fundraising push is a £40 million library that has been paid for by private donations. It will replace a cramped 1960s building and construction will begin soon.

Queen's enters a new phase in August when Peter Gregson, deputy vice-chancellor of Southampton University, arrives to take over from Sir George.

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