BRCs: The Science Golden Triangle Wins Again

Innovation (small) 80x101.jpg England’s Northern Universities are upset that the Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) of excellence are all in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Oxford, Cambridge and London. ‘Added value’ economic impact has been sidelined. With intimations of southern advantage and selective assessment perspectives, is this a re-run of the 4GLS synchrotron debate on location in the ‘north’ or ‘south’?

Prof Alan Gilbert, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University, is championing medical science in England’s northern universities, after his institution was not selected as a comprehensive biomedical research centre of excellence (BRC). This accolade, worth 8-figure sums to each institution, has been awarded only to universities in Oxford, Cambridge and London.
Once again, the Golden Triangle has triumphed over everywhere else in England.
And once again the southern economy hots up as northern sensitivities are similarly inflamed.
Who decides?
The decision to support only Golden Triangle universities was made by the Department of Health / NHS National Institute for Health Research
high command, on the basis of assessment by a panel of experts working outside England of the international excellence of medical science in the competing universities.
This panel does not seem to have laid much emphasis on the impact of macro-investment in the knowledge economy on regional economies as such.
History repeats itself
So here we go again.
More science money is being invested where money has already gone. Comparatively less is made available where investment has historically been more difficult to obtain.
When the big debates about synchrotron investment in the North of England were conducted, the medical science people were
hardly to be seen. The Wellcome Trust, a major player in bio-medical research, was widely regarded as unhelpful to those making the northern case, and even some northern university medical scientists did not support it.
Yet investment (usually of government money) in scientific institutions with capacity and established further potential is critical to wider long-term prospects for the UK economy.
Biggest impact, greatest added-value
Prof Gilbert says that universities must not ‘ask favours because we have been disadvantaged historically’. But in fighting his case he could look at the Daresbury (4GLS) – Rutherford Appleton (Diamond) synchrotron debates to see that the issues may be slightly different.
It is not ‘asking favours’ if those of us, the public whose money is
being spent, demand equity in terms of investment opportunities for top-level science.
Wider perspectives
The NHS is a very closed institution which has not, historically, been good at acknowledging it is now an important part of the wider knowledge economy.
Patient care is the aspect of this huge organisation which most members of the public experience, but that should be a fundamental ‘given’. It cannot provide refuge from the fact that, medically or otherwise, international science knows no silos.
Excellence in context
Nor can a rightful emphasis on patient experience permit us to forget, as collectively holders of the public purse, that any public investment needs to work in as many different ways as possible.

As the growing success of the U.K.’s ‘northern’ Darebury Laboratories has shown, internationally excellent science, public benefit across the nation and added-value regional development can evolve hand in hand, if enough decision-makers have the vision and courage to ensure that this will happen.

UK and European Science Policy: Role of Co-operative Research Networks (Psi Research Report)

Posted on February 16, 2007, in Education, Health And Welfare, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Science Politics And Policy. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Agnieszka Lichanska

    This sounds so familiar to the situations at Australian Universities where major (but fortunately not all) funding goes to only some major Institutes and Universities. And that creates a vicious loop where the places with poor funding keep getting worse off. And while this is being explained by need to concentrate research excellence a long term consequences can be more devastating as students will prefer to go to those fewer so called better universities than to equally good schools in the neighbourhood. Moreover, staff from the smaller and not well funded universities will migrate out to other jobs. And it creates the feeling that if you are not at the top funded university you are not good, which has really no basis in the skills or knowledge of the people involved.

  1. Pingback: Knowledge, The New Currency In Regeneration « Hilary Burrage

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