A post-92 university has asked its researchers to shift the focus of their work to three “societal challenges” as it bids to carve out a niche for itself.
Mike Mannion, pro vice-chancellor for research at Glasgow Caledonian University, told Times Higher Education that lecturers whose research did not align with the priorities would get “less support” from the institution. But he argued that the themes – inclusive societies, healthy lives and sustainable environments – were broad enough to allow curiosity-driven research to continue unimpeded.
The challenges are identified in the university’s research strategy, which aims to focus academic activity on existing strengths, likely funding opportunities and gaps in the market.
Professor Mannion acknowledged that some lecturers were currently in the “mainstream” of the strategy and that others were on the “periphery”.
“Everybody will need to adjust; everybody will probably need to take a step to the left or a step to the right,” he said. “That way, we can bring to bear greater critical mass to address these problems, and that way we can develop stronger, more powerful stories about our contribution to solving these challenges.”
There had been “robust academic discussion” about the plans last year, said Professor Mannion, who was now “confident” that “everybody has bought into” the strategy.
He argued that the approach could lead to interesting interdisciplinary conversations – for example, between a historian of the pox in Roman times and scientists looking at communicable diseases today.
“If people start to do some research in areas that aren’t aligned with the major challenges and themes, we have not said ‘you can’t do it’, because people are curiosity-driven,” Professor Mannion added. “At the same time, they will get less support – and not just financial support [but] emotional support, too.
“I think there is enough scope in the breadth of the challenges and themes…to allow everybody to exercise creativity and flexibility without feeling…particularly constrained.”
Glasgow Caledonian improved its grade point average to 2.67 in the 2014 research excellence framework, up from 2.01 in the 2008 research assessment exercise. Its target is to raise this to 3.0 for the next assessment.