Letter: Elite universities

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The Independent Online
Sir: David Walker's article (16 May) correctly identifies a serious problem regarding the funding of research in our universities. Unfortunately, his solution is simplistic and a classic example of British short-termism.

Mr Walker correctly concludes that excellence in research is under threat, and he proposes to solve the problem by concentrating funding in perhaps ten elite universities, with the rest receiving little or no public support for research. While this might bring some short-term benefits, the long- term results will be wholly disadvantageous.

The most effective higher education based research engine is clearly that in the US (where there are about 800 "research universities"). This system depends quite explicitly on having a spectrum of activity, from the research-led flagships through many institutions with high levels of activity and pockets of excellence, to many teaching-only institutions. The effectiveness of the system depends on this continuum and the mobility between institutions that it facilitates. We are now moving towards a flexible continuum in the UK, which Mr Walker's approach would destroy.

The only way that we can protect and encourage excellence in UK research is through greater investment.

Professor R W JOYNER

Director of Research

The Nottingham Trent