UK higher education’s research claims are ‘ridiculous’, says Vodafone director

R&D boss thinks the grandiose pretensions of the ‘University of Middle Wallop’ are putting off international firms and damaging the country’s reputation. Hannah Fearn reports

March 4, 2009

The head of research and development at one of the world’s largest mobile phone companies has criticised the research claims of the UK’s higher education sector.

Michael Walker, director of R&D at Vodafone, said it was “ridiculous” how many British universities say they are research-led.

Speaking at a Royal Society debate this week, he said that such claims from mediocre institutions were putting businesses off and damaging the UK’s international reputation.

“We’ve got more universities in the UK that claim to be research-led than in the US. This is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s very damaging for the UK’s reputation. Chinese companies are turning up at the ‘University of Middle Wallop’ and finding that proper research is a myth. They go back to China saying that the UK is not a good place to come for research.”

Professor Walker, who also holds a chair in telecommunications at Royal Holloway, University of London, said the UK had nothing special to offer corporations in research terms, and that the same quality skill sets were available in Germany.

Working with British universities could also be confusing, he added.

“We don’t have [academic research] clusters and if you’re a small company, where do you go if you want some research done?”

For full coverage of the Royal Society debate, see Times Higher Education, 12 March.

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