Travel broadens scholarly minds, report advises

August 5, 2010

Any reform of research spending must encourage British researchers to become more mobile, according to a new report.

The Future of Research, published by Universities UK on 5 August, aims to give policy advice to the government ahead of this autumn's Comprehensive Spending Review.

The report says international collaboration will be crucial to meeting global challenges and producing internationally competitive research in the future, and notes that high levels of collaboration in countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands correlate with high levels of international mobility among their researchers.

It also notes that only 0.7 per cent of UK students currently study abroad, compared with a rising average of 2.6 per cent in the European Union as a whole.

UUK recommends that research councils offer enhanced studentships to students who spend at least a year abroad, with larger premiums for those who choose an emerging research economy such as China.

"The net gain in terms of collaborative links, knowledge of overseas activity and net expertise would be very large. The cultural shift could be even more significant," it says.

The report also recommends that funding bodies pay for more foreign sabbaticals for research staff, and calls on universities to impress upon schools the need for aspiring researchers to learn a foreign language.

It says university research must make a clearer impact on "real-world economic, social and environmental problems" by increasing collaboration with industry, and suggests that the movement of researchers between industry and the academy is the most effective form of knowledge transfer.

It also calls on the government to set up a three- and six-month exchange scheme for researchers and industrialists.

Finally, it discusses research concentration, recommending fewer but better studentships and grants, as well as the introduction of "capacity thresholds", such as a minimum size or quality for research units.

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