The North East of England has been given “northern research power” to compete with anything outside of London, according to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Northumbria after his institution rose in national research rankings.
Andrew Wattie took office in Newcastle The university in 2008, when it was 81st in research, and now it is ranked 28th in the UK, according to a research structure (Ref) published this month.
The two-year practice, which tested and evaluated the performance of 76,000 scientists across the UK, is vital to allocating £ 2bn a year to public research grants and could mean millions more for pilots like Northumbria.
Wathey said his institution’s performance at the Ref was “a great testament to what colleagues have achieved” and offered great rewards for the region as a whole.
“The implications for the northeast are important here. This essentially provides Newcastle with a second university with intensive research. And if you add Durham, it makes the greatest concentration of researchers in any area of the city outside of London, ”Wattie said.
The University of Newcastle is ranked 17th, and Durham – 21st of the 157 UK institutions that took part in the Ref, the trio together has almost 3,500 active researchers – more than in Cambridge or Oxford.
For local authorities in northeastern countries, universities play a vital role, Wattie said. “There are not many FTSE-100 companies in the Northeast, so for local authorities, universities are really the only corporations they can work with to build a place.
“Raising the level is not a new idea, but it affects the way you do regional development. And local authorities in the northeast have a very knowledgeable view of universities and research, which is that it will stimulate future economic growth in the region.
Wattie said there is no magic behind the rise of Northumbria other than choosing a strategy that strongly emphasizes research and sticking to it. In practical terms, Wattie said, this means that university vacancies have been filled by scholars “who are both inspiring faculty and outstanding researchers,” as well as cutting red tape and reorienting the institution.
“We worked hard on culture and leadership. And we recognized the burden of research, ”Wattie said.
Because Ref is based on the results of individual research, ambitious agencies have sought to appoint employees with established “Ref-able” powers. But Wattie said Northumbria was able to attract talented scientists right at the start of their careers, which brought dividends.
“We have created positions that were called research vice-rectors. Unlike a fairly large number of postdoctoral positions in the sector, they are guaranteed to continue working as lecturers. And they turned out to be very popular, and some of our stars today joined us at the beginning of these posts. ”
Figures from the last Ref show how successful this strategy has been: according to the 2008 exercise in Northumbria, there were only 56 staff members who are estimated to have conducted leading global or international research. In 2014, the Ref rose to 207, and the total this year has increased to 840 in a variety of subjects such as English, history and technology.
The success of Northumbria and others, such as Manchester Metropolitan, suggests that for the first time modern universities are crossing “pure blue water,” in the words of Wattie, who previously separated the new institutions from their more prominent counterparts.
Under the current government method of allocating research funding – based on Ref 2014 – Russell University would lose around £ 44 million a year. But distributions based on Ref 2021 have not yet been established – and established research universities are likely to argue that they should not reproduce.
Sarah Richardson, editor Research Professional news that tracks funding said Ref’s analysis found that in the “golden triangle” formed by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London, the share of high-ranking research has declined.
“I think this suggests that although the golden triangle clearly dominates the research, the gap with the rest of the country may be slightly smaller than previously thought. This is very important if you are thinking about raising the level, the government’s agenda – to increase the spread of research across the country. So the sector is very concerned about how this could affect the golden triangle, ”Richardson said.
For Wattie, the amount of income directly generated is less important than the potential increase in public perception of universities such as Northumbria. “Reputational benefit is more important than money. Money is good, but there are relatively fewer ways you can build a reputation. And that’s really key. “