King's loses defence centre head in run-up to RAE

March 18, 2005

Researchers in the country's leading war studies department have been shocked by the departure of one of their directors, who was made redundant as part of the university's preparations for the next research assessment exercise.

Staff were stunned when Paul Cornish announced last month he was leaving as executive director of the Centre for Defence Studies, part of the top-rated war studies group at King's College London.

Since taking up his fixed-term post in 2002, Dr Cornish oversaw 20 projects, mainly for work for the British and US governments, attracting some Pounds 700,000 in income at the centre. But in January, he was told that he was being made redundant.

Michael Clarke, professor of defence studies and director of the International Policy Institute at King's, will now manage the centre as well as two other research groups. He said the college wanted to promote the centre's work as more mainstream, attract longer-term funding and give its activities more prominence.

"To do that we have to reorganise the leadership," he said. "I would have liked Dr Cornish to stay as a senior research fellow."

He blamed the contract nature of policy research for the decision. "There has to be 'follow-on finance'. There is no shortage of short-term finance. But its harder to get longer-term finance."

Dr Cornish declined to comment. But in an email he sent to academic colleagues seen by The Times Higher he explained that he had been made redundant "in order that security and defence related-research at King's can be reorganised and consoli-dated".

But some of the research staff at the centre see the move as the latest sign of growing tensions at the department, which is aiming to maintain its top 5*-rating in the 2008 RAE.

One source said Professor Clarke's explanation for the departure was "bemusing".

A contract researcher who wished to remain anonymous said he was expected to bring in more than £500 a day. "You are supposed to bring in your salary and overhead costs," he said. "It was virtually impossible. My dentist used to know how many months were on my contract just by looking in my mouth."

He said that to maintain RAE grades, researchers were expected to write up their research into academic papers over the weekend.

Dr Cornish takes up a new chair at the think-tank Chatham House, formerly the Royal Institute for International Affairs on May 1.

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