Plymouth has ambitious plans

September 13, 2002

Plymouth University will be able to compete with the UK's top research universities within 15 years, according to its new vice-chancellor Roland Levinsky, but it will have to find new sources of funding to succeed.

Professor Levinsky said: "The hardest part will be trying to move with the constraints of government underfunding of higher education. We operate on the breadline. If we break even at the end of the year, we are happy. We need new money and investment."

Professor Levinsky completed his first fortnight at Plymouth a week before the new Peninsula Medical School's first 130 students begin their studies. The first hurdle will be to work out how to fund the PMS's 55 research groups, after it missed out on applying to last year's research assessment exercise. Funding from Plymouth and Exeter universities, National Health Service funding and private donations keep the research afloat.

"I took it on as a challenge," Professor Levinsky said. "Altruism will be key. Traditionally, most of the (biomedical funding) goes to Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL. But there is no reason why we shouldn't compete for this."

Alongside building a medical research base, Professor Levinsky is keen to restore Plymouth's reputation in marine biology. He hopes the two strands of biological research can grow in parallel.

Before he became vice-provost for biomedicine and head of the graduate school at University College London, Professor Levinsky was dean of the Institute of Child Health. In eight years, he turned the ICH's ratings from 2 to 5*. He hopes to work this same magic at Plymouth in both arts and sciences. The university came half way down The THES RAE table last year, the third highest-ranked new university.

"Plymouth had good ratings for teaching," he said. "Now I want to improve research ratings. Within 15 years there is no reason why Plymouth shouldn't be in the top 25 per cent of research universities. Plymouth is like a university in its adolescence. It now needs to embrace adulthood. We need to build a research base that competes internationally."

Professor Levinsky inherits a portfolio of widening access and regional collaboration projects. Plymouth was a founding member of the Combined Universities of Cornwall, and has links with the Eden project. He also wants to create a confederation of south western universities to build critical mass for excellent research.

The CUC has secured the £44.8 million funding to build the central hub campus in Tremough near Falmouth. Half came from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Objective One programme. The South West Regional Development agency put up almost £13 million, the Higher Education Funding Council £5.7 million, and charities and other partners the rest. The first phase of building is due for completion in 2004. A second phase is scheduled to complete in 2007. By 2010, the CUC aims to have an extra 4,000 higher education students in Cornwall.

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