Sunday 7 June 2015

Squaring the circle

I was (wryly) amused to see an academic reporting that his research proposal have been turned down by a potential funder because it was insufficiently innovative and insufficiently grounded in previous research.

That seems to me to be a microcosm of a problem at the heart of our universities: the tension between creative thinking and risk management.

On the one hand, universities aspire to be creative places: they aspire to excellence in both research and teaching (funny how their mission statements all say that...) and excellence in either sphere requires, I would argue, quite a large dose of creative thinking.

On the other hand, they have to manage risk; the leadership teams of universities are well aware of the damage to the Institution that will ensue should they perform badly in the REF (Research Excellence Framework), the NSS (National Students Survey) and so on. Slipping down the league tables makes it harder to attract the best staff or students, and has financial consequences that impede their ability to invest in their institution.

There's a good research project in there, of course: how do you square the circle?

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