In the media

Selected public comment by Professor David Price

Beyond the Research Excellence Framework

“We submit, we submit!” With this teasingly ambiguous Tweet, the UCL Research Excellence Framework (REF) Team reported to the world the culmination of an endeavour that has detained more brilliant minds, for more time, than any of us would like to think.

This parting Tweet captures the unavoidable duality to our thinking about REF – it is both something we suffer, and something we promote.

Nobody actually does research for the pleasure of submitting it to a vast government bureaucratic assessment exercise. REF takes a relatively simple practical question – how should one element of government research funding be distributed? – and complicates it to an extraordinary degree. …

– UCL News, 5 December 2013

Bloomsbury blooms: UCL leads grant income table

UCL won £31 million more research funding than any other institution in the past financial year, figures indicate.

According to Times Higher Education’s annual analysis of research council grant data, UCL won grants worth £135 million in 2012-13 at a success rate of 33 per cent by the number of applications. …

UCL’s total represents a 90 per cent rise on the previous year’s figures at a time when the total value of research council grant allocations increased by about 50 per cent.David Price, vice-provost for research at UCL, said his institution had received a “tremendous boost” from its emphasis on building cross-disciplinary consortia around global challenges such as infectious diseases, energy demand and dementia.“Those are areas in which we’ve put a lot of emphasis within our research strategy for many years, and people have been working long-term to build partnerships and exciting research programmes. This definitely isn’t an overnight success,” he said.

– Paul Jump, THE, 14 November 2013 

Alarm bells ring over NERC centres

A proposal by the Natural Environment Research Council to find new owners for four of its research centres has raised concerns that the organisations could be fully or partly privatised. …

However, others see the proposal as an opportunity. David Price, vice-provost for research at UCL, says he would like to see a greater commercial role for centres. “Geological surveying could certainly be market-driven,” he says, adding that the BGS could potentially be run as a consultancy.

– Adam Smith, Research Fortnight, 10 July 2013 

Video: Sustaining Our Digital Future

Prof David Price discusses how the UCL participated as a case study in the latest Ithaka S+R/ SCA report: 'Sustaining our Digital Future: Institutional strategies for Digital Content'. David considers how UCL has continued to develop its digital content and services, even at a time of fiscal constraint and outlines the tactics and techniques that have been employed to foster innovative collaboration within UCL.


Research heavyweights deny ‘ganging up’

The Science and Engineering South Consortium, unveiled on 9 May, contains the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Southampton, Imperial College London and UCL. …
According to David Price, vice-provost for research at UCL, this “total dominance” in engineering and physical sciences made the alliance a “no-brainer” and he hoped it would permit successful bids for funds that its members would not be able to win individually. …

Professor Price agreed that there were “other institutions in the region and elsewhere that might benefit from being more closely associated” and emphasised SES-5 was “not closed”. But no “formal requests for discussion” had been received and, in his view, it made sense first for the large founder members to formulate the consortium’s strategy. …

Professor Price said the historical rivalries within SES-5 would not inhibit its growth, noting that UCL academics had more partnerships with colleagues from Imperial than from any other institution. He said SES-5 was part of a new “zeitgeist of collaboration”.

– Paul Jump, Times Higher Education, 9 May 2013

Open Access funding insufficient

Ministers last week pledged an additional £10 million after vocal disquiet from some Russell Group institutions about the potential cost to them of author-pays open-access publishing. … David Price, vice-provost for research at UCL, said that researchers should not be “deluded" into thinking that £10 million would resolve the “systemic weaknesses" in the original case made by the Finch report. “University research budgets will have to fill the funding gap - meaning less research," he said.

Times Higher Education, 13 September 2012

‘There’s scope to grow humanities and social sciences’

Why is it so important to have a broad portfolio and what other particular areas do you want to grow?

"I think a multi-faculty comprehensive university is a place where you can actually find solutions to the world’s problems, which would require you to tension technology development with social sciences. Our entire research strategy is based on the importance of how you impact the research being done; it can only be done through really social science and humanities filters. I think there’s scope to grow humanities and social sciences because we’ve got excellent people but the numbers there aren’t quite as large as they might be. Also, engineering is growing very strongly and there’s strong development in biomedical engineering and high-performance computing. So those are all areas in which the institution is strategically putting efforts."

Research Fortnight Today, 14 September 2012

Gold or green: which is the best shade of open access?

Don't deal in a debased currency - go green

It is a central irony of the Finch report that in seeking to maximise the accessibility of scholarly knowledge and evidence - and thereby encourage openness and transparency - its authors have failed either to consider fully the facts before them or to substantiate some of their assertions. …

I think that the more preferable approach is to move to green open access, coupled with a national licensing arrangement. This would achieve the objectives set out in the Finch report of opening up access to the research literature while minimising the costs and associated risks. …
My suggested next step in the development of open access is, therefore, to see green open access fully implemented in the UK. The Finch report has missed a trick by failing to model green versus gold. Extensive economic modelling in a forthcoming Jisc-funded report by the Open Access Implementation Group shows that green is the cheapest option for universities. The study will also show that the best way to move from a subscription model to open access is via green, not gold. Green open access is also the route propounded by the European Union in its current funding programmes as a standard route for open-access publication.At UCL, we have seen first-hand the value of green open access (our institutional repository, UCL Discovery, is the largest in the UK). With as yet only a small fraction of our output available, we are still recording more than 500,000 downloads a year, and the figure is growing.

The Finch report is right to conclude that the UK has an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in the dissemination of research and in championing a knowledge-led economy. But it has surveyed the open-access landscape incompletely. Gold is not the answer: it is a so-called cure that is likely to be worse than the disease.

– Prof David Price, Times Higher Education, 5 July 2012

Detailed response to Open Access report

Implementation of the Finch Report on Open Access would "cripple university systems with extra expense. … National licences are the preferred way forward in the immediate future for many Russell Group Universities. They exist in other European countries. For an agreed amount, publishers allow access to their content by all sectors in society. UCL sees this as a transition step to full Open Access. Initial discussions suggest that the cost of national licensing would be cheaper than the Gold OA Finch is recommending."

– Richard Ponder blog, 19 June 2012

Calls to thin RCUK ranks point to coordinated benefits of slimline solutions

[Professor Price said] there was a danger that in times of scarcity, distinct research councils would concentrate their funding on "what they perceive to be their core business", leaving less for the "key areas" at the boundaries.

Times Higher Education, 19 April 2012

Renaissance man's word to the wise

Another key concept in the research strategy is "leadership", which Professor Price distinguished from excellence on the grounds that it was active rather than passive. As well as being eminent researchers, their leadership obligations would also require senior UCL academics to "be putting back into their discipline by doing professional service, and into the institution by managing and developing strategic areas in their own departments and leading career development of younger colleagues.

Times Higher Education, 26 January 2012

Bright young things with time to shine

Fellowships should not be "a temporary life-boat in a sink-or-swim career structure", but "an integral component of a system that supports and nurtures exceptional research talent".

– Times Higher Education, 3 November 2011

Research 'treadmill' under attack

In a letter to Vince Cable, business secretary, UCL vice-provosts David Price and Stephen Caddick propose that less money should be disbursed as competitive grants and contracts for which universities are required to bid. Instead, they say, more research should be funded by block grants – stable funds that are awarded annually and without conditions on the basis of a five-yearly assessment of each university’s research output. The two professors call for an end to the “treadmill so that leading researchers spend less time writing grant applications ... and more time undertaking research”.

– Financial Times, 23 September 2011

The secret to saving our universities

We at UCL have adopted what we call the "Wisdom Agenda". This involves drawing on the breadth of our collective expertise: bringing a range of discipline-specific data, perspectives and methodologies to bear on complex problems. Exploiting our differences adds value to our insights; our collective expertise can exceed the sum of its parts. We define the outcomes of this work as "impact", one word among a host of terms that universities must reclaim.

Times Higher Education, 14 July 2011

Research funding should reward excellence

We need universities that are world-leading in research. It is these leading universities that underpin the UK's ability to continue to punch above its weight in a global research landscape, and to both compete and collaborate with global peers, as well as delivering considerable economic and social benefit to the UK.

– Guardian Higher Education Network, 24 May 2011

The case for research collaboration

Pursuing more collaboration between institutions, and in particular between research-intensive ‘hubs’ and smaller ‘islands of excellence’ in other institutions, would mean that researchers from the ‘islands’ could work with larger research groups and access a high-quality research environment. Such collaboration would allow funds to be invested in concentrations of excellence whilst making the most of all of the UK’s research talent and ensuring that new and emerging areas of research can be supported.

– UCL News, 25 March 2011

How to stay on top

One of the benefits of having a minister for universities and science – and of having the same department responsible for both higher education and research funding – should be that a coherent strategy can be developed for the funding of the higher education sector. …
The abiding principle should be to fund excellence. This is broadly agreed and has driven UK research funding policy for decades. We argue that two further maxims should guide policy:

• Fund research that is internationally competitive in institutions that are able to compete and leverage their UK funding by collaborating on the global stage

• Recognise the unique importance of research-intensive multi-faculty universities. They can stimulate the cross-disciplinary working that enables the dynamism of the research base as well as the capacity to tackle systemically complex global problems by applying knowledge and insights achieved from working across different disciplines.

– Prof David Price and Prof Stephen Caddick, UCL Vice-Provost (Enterprise), Times Higher Education, 5 August 2010

Video: Restructuring research funding

UK higher education is at a crossroads. Prof David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research), argues the case for a major restructuring of the sector to play to our diverse strengths.

– UCLTV, 5 August 2010

Wise approach to 'Grand Challenges' takes UCL up the chart

The secret of [UCL's] success, according to David Price, UCL's vice-provost for research, is its concerted drive to "create wisdom out of the knowledge we're generating".

– Times Higher Education, 8 October 2009

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