Oxford cash to kickstart careers

February 10, 2006

Oxford University is providing £25 million over five years to kick-start the research careers of early stage academics.

The money, donated by Oxford University Press, will enable early stage academics to attend conferences, buy equipment and undertake relatively small-scale research projects. It will also be used to provide advice on how to attract external funding.

"We see this as vital seedcorn funding that can help trigger further external grants," said Lesley Sims, head of planning and resource allocation at Oxford.

"We piloted a more limited fund of this kind and found that there was a real need for such grants," she added.

Iain Cameron, head of research careers and diversity at Research Councils UK, said: "The councils are certainly aware of the need to provide grants aimed at early stage academics and are active in this area. However, the ability of universities to provide such funds themselves is enormously important."

Last September, a full economic costing model for research was introduced in higher education, with universities now expected to charge funders the infrastructure costs of research, which could include such forms of support for early stage academics.

But Ms Sims said: "This model of funding has not yet had time to build up.

In the meantime, we are finding that some of our academics, in particular those working in the arts and humanities and in interdisciplinary fields, are finding it hard to attract funding."

For this reason, the university, through its Research Development Fund, piloted a number of small-scale grants. One such grant, for £75,000, went to the Modern European History Research Centre, enabling it to create research programmes with partner institutions in the US, Norway, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

Martin Conway, director of the centre, said: "One of the features of the academic landscape is a lot of junior academics who have not got the resources beyond their regular salary to do that bit of extra work to boost their research careers.

"In time, full economic costing may help in this, but it is yet to filter down. In the meantime, funds such as the OUP one are vital."

Another grant went to Constantin Coussis, a cancer specialist, who was given £35,000 to help equip a room with high-tech ultrasound facilities to further his research on using ultrasound to destroy tumours.

He has since brought in £200,000 of external funding and is close to licensing his treatment.

"That small amount of money made a tremendous difference," Dr Coussis said.

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

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