Tag: North Star

Seven into one?

A recent comment from John Armitt, the incoming chairman of one of the Research Councils, has caught my attention.

It amazed me that for the simple job of keeping two bits of iron in place, there were seven different ways of doing it… if there is a task to be done, we have to decide what is the best way of doing it, and apply that nationally.

I guess from that he’ll have little patience with any of his minions trying to derail (ahem) the setting-up of a Shared Service Centre for the seven Research Councils.

Seems familiar

Amongst the things announced in yesterday’s budget was a £100 million competition for collaborative R&D

And the Secretary for Industry is also today announcing a £100 million competition for Britain to lead in high tech innovation – challenging universities and businesses to come together, from medical research to environmental transport, to convert British scientific breakthroughs into British commercial success and jobs.

That DTI announcement is somewhat more circumspect. Look on the website of the government programme running this exercise and you might notice that some of the topics highlighted in the government press release (such as low-carbon energy and plastic electronics) are already targeted. In practice, this is an expansion of on-going activity rather than a new competition in the sense that most people would understand ‘new competition’.

Today on research funding

In a rare step into the limelight, the Research Councils got a mention on the BBC’s Today Programme, with a piece about their reaction to the recent reduction in funding. The DTI response, that the cut was just 1% of science expenditure, missed the point that was being made. Research funding is a long-term thing not short-term and this is the first time research funding has been taken to cover for short-term problems elsewhere. And these, despite the comment of the Beeb’s Pallab Ghosh, are not part of the Civil Service, but agencies that are, officially, at ‘arms length’ from government. It also overlooked the fact that if you take 1% of the budget with only a little over one month of the financial year remaining, and do so from organisations whose expenditure is committed for many years, the effect is greatly magnified: the chancellor has effectively just inserted a little ‘boom and bust’ into university funding.

It was also strange to see so many Research Council heads speaking out at once. One could almost be forgiven for wondering whether one of their ‘arms length’ masters in a less liberated position had given them permission to do so.

A university for Swindon?

In 2001, a report to Swindon Borough Council concluded that an area near the town centre called North Star should be developed as a university campus as part of Swindon’s regeneration programme. The Swindon Urban Regeneration Company was set-up the following year, with the University of Bath having a seat on it’s board. The plan was for the site to accomodate 1,000 students along with accomodation. Then a change of heart led to the University of Bath wanting a more traditional campus, and a site near one of Swindon’s main leisure areas, Coate Water, was selected. There was much local opposition, as the plans (paid for through major housing development on the site) would encroach on the currently open landscape. As a consequence of a change in government policy (towards more workplace learning) and of the housing developers wanting too much of the site, the university has changed it’s mind, again. Now Swindon College is offering to share their campus at North Star with the University of Bath. So we are back where we were six years ago.