16 September 2010

Inclining the playing field

You have two grant proposals in front of you.

One is a researcher at an primarily undergraduate institution that isn’t well known outside of its region, but this particular person has had several years of producing a string of publications in international journals. In fact, this person has pulled together a few colleagues, and they have a good collaboration going.

The other is a researcher at a major research university that is recognized internationally, and has been publishing, but at nowhere near the rate of the first researcher. He’s plugging away at his own lab with his own doctoral students, and not really working with other faculty in his institution or elsewhere.

Dame Nancy Rothwell would have us believe that the right thing to do is to give the money to the second researcher. He may not be as productive as the first, but that's not important, because the best institutions have to be maintained.

The Times Higher Education reports:

If the coming cuts in higher education spending were so severe that Hefce was forced to choose between protecting funding for top institutions and islands of excellence, the latter should lose out, she said.

To put it another way, people do not count; only institutions do. Individual initiative does not count; only maintaining prestige does. And the status quo never, ever changes.

There’s a message from a king worried about his crown.

As research dollars tighten, watch for more and more vested interests making more and more efforts to stop people from competing for the resources that the established places have had to themselves for a long time.

Hat tip to Chris Atherton.

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