Manchester sets sights on top of world league

October 22, 2004

Alan Gilbert, Manchester University's vice-chancellor and president, has called for a rapid "step change" in the new institution's standing in the world's higher education league tables.

Announcing a £400 million, ten-year investment in staff and buildings, Professor Gilbert said that the university had no option but to recruit the best researchers in the world if it was to realise its "preferred future" as one of the top 25 institutions in the world.

Professor Gilbert, who became head of the university on October 1 after the merger with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology had been agreed, unveiled a strategic plan for the university setting out goals in nine key areas. They include:

* Attracting at least five Nobel laureates by 2015, with three appointments secured by 2007

* Trebling the number of staff who are fellows of the Royal Society or who have won top scientific and scholarly prizes

* Doubling the number of postgraduate research students by 2015

* At least 30 per cent of staff to be conducting international-quality research and 90 per cent undertaking national quality by 2008

* Doubling external grant income in real terms by 2015, and aiming for research income from industry to rise from 8 per cent to 20 per cent in the same period.

Professor Gilbert said the aim was to build clusters of world-class researchers, probably in disciplines where Manchester is strong, such as radio astronomy, computing, physics, chemistry and life sciences.

"We would be deluding ourselves if we tried to claim we had made it into the top 25, unless we had significant numbers of such people and such research groups," he said.

The university plans to finance its plans through a tenfold increase in fundraising income, trebling recruitment of full-fee paying overseas students, a real-terms 50 per cent rise in recurrent income and increases in funding through exploiting knowledge transfer and intellectual property.

The capital programme will support building projects over the next seven years, including new facilities for astronomy, maths, physics and photon science, a new chemistry wing, and a Manchester interdisciplinary biocentre.

Staff welcomed the merger and granting of the Royal Charter as a tremendous opportunity.

Paul O'Brien, head of the new School of Chemistry, said: "You mix together the two solutions, and if you mix them properly, you end up with something new. We have mixed the solutions, and now we are awaiting the reaction."

The merger of Manchester's earth and environmental sciences and Umist's atmospheric physics departments has created a new School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. The two departments are a mile apart.

Tom Choularton, professor of atmospheric physics and formerly head of department at Umist, commented: "A mile apart in two separate institutions is the same as ten miles apart. It is only when you get together you realise how synergy can drive things forward."

Nicky Snook, head of administration for the school, said: "It is a unique opportunity to put in place new systems. But one of the frustrations is that we are still dealing with the old systems that are going out."

Students were less excited. First-year Mike Kerr said: "There are big signs up everywhere, but I have not felt it has been an event in my life so far."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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