Thursday, 14 June 2012

'Monastic & Medieval': the Need for Change in UK Research

Day two of ARMA2012 began with another double-headed plenary. Say what you like about ARMA, but they do like their BOGOFs. This time there was a little more synergy between the two speakers. Prof Teresa Rees, PVC at Cardiff and head of the Leadership Foundation in Wales, started by casting her eyes to the stormy horizon. 'I advise the European Commission on research strategy,' she said, 'and they are worried about the UK's position globally.' Why? Because the UK's universities – in common with many on mainland Europe – are hidebound in tradition. They're so busy fussing about which gowns to wear and what the protocol is when addressing the sub-pro-deputy-vice-chancellor for the wine cellar that they're not noticing the young upstarts snapping at their heels. 'It's too medieval and monastic'. There's a need for fresh thinking, she suggested, from how to collaborate, to how to prioritise funding bids, to how to design projects to better reflect contemporary society. Academics and administrators need to work together in this.

Michael Jubb of the Research Information Network (RIN), and a member of the Finch Review, took over to talk about the challenges of expanding access to peer-reviewed research. The current avenues for dissemination are dominated by traditional subscription based journals. The internet had freed this up somewhat, but there was much more to do. He suggested that four elements need to be addressed:
  •  licence arrangements need to be extended to cover more libraries, more sectors;
  • policies need to be rewritten to proactively encourage or require publication in open access or hybrid journals;
  • public funding needs to be made available so that business can access research outputs;
  •  and institutional repositories need to be made more comprehensive, better linked, and easier to use.

So both speakers recognised the shortcomings of the status quo. I'll be interested to see whether their suggestions, their knowledge and their energy are enough to shift the monastic, medieval mass of research tradition in the UK.

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