Right of Reply: Sue Iversen

Oxford University's head of research replies to claims that British universities are not world class
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
DAVID CANNADINE raises an important debate for all of higher education in this country. There are clearly differences between universities in the US and the UK, and the access to private funds in the US is undoubtedly a major factor.

Money brings freedom and the ability to respond quickly to provide the space and resources needed to exploit new opportunities. This empowers academics to be bold and take risks. I think David Cannadine is exactly right to sense this pulse in the US; we need to foster it as much in Oxford as in other UK universities.

But certainly in the sciences there is reason for optimism. The pounds 700m that has recently been made available for infrastructure support of top quality science is said to be "the chance of a lifetime" for our universities.

This will stem the decaying infrastructure, but it must also be used to foster the interfaces between classical scientific disciplines - such as those between biology and the physical sciences, mathematics and biology, genetics and molecular biology.

Scientists in the US have already been able to grasp these opportunities and David Cannadine points out that a similar attitude has worked to advantage in the humanities. To achieve these goals, there is no doubt that we shall need to find funding on a higher and more sustained level than in the past.

There are many in the university sector who lay the blame for this lack of initiative at the feet of "government imposed bureaucracy"; it is entirely appropriate that the outputs of a university should be judged, but there is a fear that this process is distracting us from growth in true academic excellence. As far as Oxford is concerned, we intend to remain a pre- eminent international university.

Comments