Rector calls for fund revolution

May 25, 2001

Fundamental funding reform of British universities is essential for the country to prosper in the knowledge economy, Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial College, London, said last week.

"If United Kingdom universities are to continue to attract and produce world-leading teaching and research, we need changes now," he said in his lecture on the knowledge economy at Birkbeck College, London.

"We have got to have much more independent funding. (Elite universities) only work in the United States where they have big endowment funds and they can take the best students and pay them to study. If someone can go to Princeton and get paid for it, or come to London and live in a damp basement and get pneumonia, then they are going to go to Princeton.

"There's much that needs to be changed. Take poor pay and job security for postdoctorate researchers. To encourage them to achieve, major injections of money are required.

"It is unrealistic to believe that these aims will be met by government funding alone. It has said that it is not going to put a lot more money into tertiary education."

Sir Richard highlighted the value of the intellectual capital held by university researchers as a source of future income. He also pointed to the raised earning power of graduates.

Academics should move more freely between roles, according to Sir Richard, who was chief executive of GlaxoWellcome until its merger in January with SmithKlineBeecham.

"People should move between institutions, and between academia and industry," he said.

Sir Richard said that universities should act to assuage the fear of science and technology, which could ultimately undermine the knowledge economy.

"Science and technology is becoming less popular in schools... Teaching in schools must be strengthened and it is important that universities get involved in the secondary system," he said.

He highlighted the lack of physics graduates training to become teachers and said: "Each year 1,000 physics teachers retire and 150 (graduates) go into physics teaching."

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