UK boosts its tally of Nobel laureates

October 27, 2006

Universities hope signing up big names will inspire new stars, says Tony Tysome.

Manchester University is close to recruiting another Nobel laureate, adding to the UK's haul of international research superstars.

Alan Gilbert, Manchester's vice-chancellor, said that it would soon announce the appointment of a Nobel prizewinner from the US. The university plans to recruit five laureates by 2015. Last year, it appointed the 2001 economic science laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

Professor Gilbert said the latest appointment had agreed to take up a post at Manchester but the laureate could not be identified because negotiations were continuing over whether the appointment would be full or part time.

Professor Gilbert also said that the university was "in consultation" with three other Nobel prizewinners from overseas. Its recent appointment of social change expert Robert Putnam, to direct a joint project with Harvard University, is also seen as a coup.

"If you want a choice of the world's best postdocs, you need some icons who have decided to come to your particular university," Professor Gilbert said.

"That is how you build critical mass capability."

Manchester's news follows Cardiff University's announcement that it has lured Robert Huber, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

Professor Huber's salary, together with new equipment and an additional lectureship for the structural biology unit in which he will work part time, cost Cardiff about £500,000.

Adrian Harwood, professor of biosciences and co-ordinator of the molecular cell biology group at Cardiff, said Professor Huber became interested in the university's structural biology initiative through contact with a German member of the unit.

"What will have got him interested is the fact that a lot of new people have moved here recently, particularly in the areas between the classic sciences," he said.

Last month, The Times Higher reported that Nobel prizewinning chemist Sir Harry Kroto would return to Sussex University after leaving Britain to work in the US two years ago.

But concerns remain that while the UK is enjoying some success in luring top researchers to the UK, it still loses too many overseas and perhaps fails to produce enough homegrown Nobel prizewinners.

This week, Alistair Darling, Trade and Industry Secretary, unveiled a government-backed scheme to attract the cream of the world's scientific talent to the UK.

The Royal Society International Fellowship scheme will help support top researchers from overseas to work in Britain. A similar scheme in Germany has spawned 35 Nobel prizewinners.

An analysis by Stephen Court, senior research officer at the University and College Union, shows that out of the 18 Nobel prizewinners from the past two decades who were born or studied in the UK or who worked at or with a UK institution before winning their prize, only two work full time in British higher education.

Four hold emeritus or honorary positions in the UK, two are not working in British higher education, two have since died and the remaining eight are working in the US.

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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