Working Together: Flexibility, Creativity and Better Options
"In carefully selected areas and with the right partner, the benefits of collaboration are substantial."
This is the collective view of the Steering Committee that coordinates and develops activities coming under the Synergy umbrella. Long before the two institutions agreed that they would be "preferred partners", they had working relationships in various areas of research and, because of their proximity, many common areas of interest.
Professor Andrea Nolan, Vice-Principal (Learning & Teaching) at the University of Glasgow and Professor Kenny Miller, Pro Vice-Principal of the University of Strathclyde, describe some of the developments achieved since the creation of Synergy.
Since the partnership was formalised in 1998, the Committee, which comprises the Vice-Principals, Deputy Principals and University Secretaries of the two institutions, meets regularly to discuss ways of enhancing frameworks which will allow new and on-going projects to work most effectively. Close collaboration involves establishing new rules, guidelines and templates which encourage rather than obstruct successful partnerships.
There are now around 200 active research collaborations, 17 joint undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and Synergy scholarships at postgraduate level. The Glasgow Graduate School of Law: the only joint department in 1998: has gone from strength to strength. According to one member of staff, the Synergy arrangement creates flexibility and creativity and the School can "offer options that neither University could provide entirely on its own".
In 2001, the Department of Ship and Marine Technology at the University of Strathclyde merged with the Department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at the University of Glasgow, to form the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, or NA-ME for short, jointly owned by the two Universities. The merger has brought together complementary expertise to form a centre of international excellence in teaching and research. The two institutions' Social Work departments will soon merge and plans are under way to collaborate in teaching and research in modern languages.
As Professor David Gani, Director of Research Policy at the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC), said: "Synergy is already demonstrating significant benefits to the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and is emerging as a practical model for strategic research and learning collaborations. There are real economies of scale, opportunities to achieve the critical mass that is increasingly required for competitive research, and the realisation of step change improvements in the research environment."
The success of Synergy is due to many factors: particularly vital are the informal networks which exist between academic staff in the two institutions, providing the 'bottom-up' impetus for many of the initiative's achievements. However, also important is the close working relationship at senior management level which facilitates the 'top-down' strategic decisions needed to develop Synergy for the mutual benefit of Glasgow and Strathclyde. In addition, Synergy's progress has been assisted by SHEFC which provided funds for central administrative support.
Our complementary skills allow us to put together combinations of different types of expertise needed in the resolution of complex problems. We will also use the expertise as a basis to seek funding from research councils, government agencies and Europe. When Synergy was launched, we believed that it would offer enormous opportunities for the future and this belief has been confirmed. Synergy is a positive force for staff, students, and the Scottish research base.