Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Research and 'Strategic Priorities'

There was an interesting article in this week's Times Higher, which highlighted the potential (or, in the case of Queens University Belfast, real) conflict between the research of individual academics and the aspirations and positioning of managers.
At QUB, proposals for a new appraisal system state that - to quote THE - 'all academic research projects must be aligned with the stated goals of the department or school in which they are undertaken.'
It brought to mind two things. One was a visit from the University of Maastricht that I was involved in last week. At Maastrict they have gone one step further than this. Rather than merely having 'stated goals', the University has been restructured around clearly defined interdisciplinary groupings, and there are clear themes into which you need to fit.
The second thing that the article brought to mind was the increasing move by the Research Councils towards 'managed programmes' in priority areas, such as Living with Environmental Change.
So is this the shape of the brave new world of research? Perhaps it's the first step towards rethinking departmental boundaries, of understanding what a department is. After all, the departmental structure of most universities is now more than a century old, and perhaps it is time to think again about how disciplines are grouped. However, it would be a shame to take this too far and slavishly follow the prevailing political wind, overlooking or dropping unfashionable but important subject areas that 'don't fit.'

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