Partners master rough seas to win £20 million

September 10, 2004

Fears that Scottish research might miss out after the English White Paper have been allayed, due to the Scots' ability to work together. Olga Wojtas reports.

Glasgow and Strathclyde universities reckon they have won an extra £20 million in research funding as a direct result of the pioneering research partnership they launched in 1998.

Under the Synergy initiative, the universities are each other's "preferred partner" in research. This does not rule out collaborations with other institutions, but it encourages researchers to look to the partner university first.

The approach is simultaneously bottom-up and top-down. While the academics themselves decide what areas would be most productive, the universities have set up a coordinating committee to minimise the bureaucratic hurdles.

Susan Shaw, Strathclyde's vice-principal, admits that the universities - one created by a 15th-century papal bull and the other largely the product of the Victorian technology boom - had not seen themselves as natural collaborators.

"But the two then principals, Sir Graeme Davies (Glasgow) and Sir John Arbuthnott (Strathclyde) came to the conclusion that there were areas where strong groups of researchers were essential for international pre-eminence," Professor Shaw said.

The institutions' expertise has proved profitably complementary in tackling issues from obesity to the economic impact of devolution.

There are some 200 active collaborations, including a full merger of Strathclyde's department of ship and marine technology and Glasgow's department of naval architecture and ocean engineering.

Peter Holmes, Glasgow's vice-principal, said both departments might have been lost because of their small size. But the new department, merging Glasgow's strength in off-shore engineering and Strathclyde's in ship safety, was now a European leader, attracting more than £4 million for research.

But that is as far as things will go for the foreseeable future, with no plans for institutional merger.

"We do things together where it makes sense and don't do things together where there isn't a strong case," Professor Shaw said.

Professor Holmes said: "It's the best of both worlds."

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