Keele to let those with outside funding teach less, learns Anthea Lipsett
A ground-breaking initiative that allows researchers to "buy" time off teaching duties to carry out more research was launched officially this week by Keele University. The Keele2006 initiative sees the creation of seven new research institutes in which staff can use research income to reduce teaching duties.
The university has restructured into three overarching faculties - natural sciences, humanities and health and social sciences. Within these areas, there are 13 teaching schools run by executive deans and seven research institutes led by research directors.
Janet Finch, vice-chancellor of Keele, said: "It's about making sure the university is geared up to support research in a way that reflects the importance we accord to areas we're trying to support."
The research institutes were set up late last year. They cover: primary care and health sciences; science and technology in medicine; environment, physical sciences and applied mathematics; public policy and management; life course studies; law, politics and justice; and humanities.
The institutes are funded by external research income and public research funding. The aim is to give more tailored support to staff in putting projects together and getting research grants.
Professor Finch said: "We've got dedicated research leadership in all our key areas for the first time."
She said there had been a perceptible rise in research income and that staff had embraced the initiative. "We've got positive feedback about staff feeling structures are genuinely supporting them in their research activities."
However, Joe Andrew, Keele spokesman for the University and College Union, said Keele2006 had had no positive effect on research income and that "ordinary" academics felt excluded from the decision-making process.
Peter Fletcher, former president of the Association of University Teachers, said: "Everybody hates this scheme. It's completely unworkable. The separation between teaching and research has proved problematic."
WHAT DO KEELE STAFF THINK OF THE NEW INSTITUTES?
Barry Godfrey, director of the Research Institute of Law, Politics and Justice "A large group of scholars is brought together to develop research agendas, increase research outputs and break down barriers between disciplines.
"Just meeting people in other areas has been a real epiphany for most. They didn't realise other people were interested in the same stuff. It's like a matchmaking service.
"Environment is the big one. People from right across the institute have put in applications for funding, with scientists talking to social theorists.
"Research managers will give advice on funding programmes coming up and help academics get through the bureaucracy of making grant applications.
"A lot of people were worried about separating teaching and research, but because researchers are members of schools and research institutes, their research findings feed into teaching.
"This scale of change brings disruption, but I'm convinced this is a great thing."
Nigel Cassidy, lecturer in earth sciences "It's a good thing. It allows me to split my thinking about teaching and research, whereas previously your research and teaching elements were hard to separate in terms of time and responsibility.
"The competition for your time is between the research director and your dean. They work out time and cost elements, and that's been a bonus for me personally. It takes that pressure off.
"I recently got a grant that has enabled me to buy out time, which allows me to think about research. I can think of ways of bringing that back into teaching."
David Amigoni, director of the Research Institute for Humanities "We always tried to chivy colleagues along in getting research grants, but it was difficult to do that without the appropriate infrastructure.
"With the fully fledged research institute, we have a research manager whose job it is to focus on grant deadlines and opportunities, so you can target effectivelyparticular individuals or groups.
"Teaching and research are separate from the point of view of management, but we think about people as integrated individuals who do teaching and research and admin. It's essential we continue to do that."
Mark Ormerod, head of the School of Physical and Geographical Sciences "We want to teach well but there should also be an opportunity for new, younger staff to pursue research. I have a very good relationship with the research director. We work together pretty closely and he understands my issues. In a sense, this formalises what we used to do.
"The benefits won't become apparent until after the next research assessment exercise but (the new initiative) really helps promote inter-disciplinary research. These larger themed research institutes cross boundaries and have really galvanised interactions between people.
"Teaching isn't the poor relation of research. You can get promoted by excelling at teaching and administration. Teaching definitely doesn't come second.
"The biggest change is having executive deans in the faculties that oversee both schools and institutes. I've got a proper line manager, someone who's looking at the whole of the faculty of life sciences and links up to the deputy vice-chancellor. Channels are much more defined. Now I can get a clear decision rather than thrashing around in a black hole."