Mixed response to new culture of partnerships and Joint staffing

May 27, 2005

While Wales considers a new fees structure, demoralised staff and insufficient income are stalling progress at the country's universities, reports Tony Tysome

Einir Young , deputy director of Bangor University's Centre for Arid Zone Studies, is sceptical about the drive to create semi-permanent research partnerships between Welsh institutions.

Researchers at the centre already collaborate with academics from Aberystwyth and Swansea universities. But they are sceptical about the benefits of the research partnerships proposed by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, with joint appointments as well as shared staff and facilities.

Dr Young said: "If you have joint appointment, where will those people live? It is a three-hour drive from Bangor to Aberystwyth. Will they spend half their time on the road?"

David Harris , a senior research fellow at the centre, agreed. "It is more attractive to politicians to change the structures rather than making existing ones work better."

Kelly Page-Thomas , head of the Welsh Unit for Research in Marketing at Glamorgan University, believes that collaboration is a must if Welsh institutions are to stand a chance of winning big grants in future.

"It is getting harder and more competitive to win larger grants.

Individuals need to come together from similar research areas to win them," she said.

But, she added, significant practical challenges will need to be overcome if long-term research collaboration is to work. "Institutions may be torn in different directions in terms of who they want to fill posts. Also, if you have a jointly appointed research assistant who produces a 5* journal, which institution will claim it for the research assessment exercise?

"We need some flexibility and operational guidelines on how this is going to work if this approach is to be successful," she said.

Peter Halligan , director of Cardiff University's Brain and Repair Imaging Centre, is in no doubt about the benefits of reconfiguration and collaboration in Wales.

The centre gained an £8 million boost from the Department of Trade and Industry as a direct result of a merger between Cardiff and the University of Wales College of Medicine.

It is now part of a bid involving departments from Bangor and Swansea for the HEFCW support to establish a Wales Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Professor Halligan said: "There is a move towards accepting the idea of removing the competitive component and saying there is a wider gain to be achieved by working together.

"That is why we are trying to put a management structure in place that will make it possible for people to work across institutions.

"It will mean putting in place an infrastructure that includes accommodation, training and supervision."

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