University alliance launches for the East

A fifth regional alliance of research universities has been announced by three institutions in the east of England.

The University of East Anglia, the University of Essex and the University of Kent have formed the Eastern Academic Research Consortium (Eastern ARC) with the aim of becoming what the press release describes as a “significant new force in research, and research training”.

Regional alliances have become popular with the government and funders since the N8 group of northern English universities was launched in 2007. The Midlands-based M5 group was formed in August 2012, the south-western GW4 alliance was unveiled in January and the Science and Engineering South Consortium was announced in May.

The latter consists of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Southampton, Imperial College London and University College London. Some observers questioned the omission of other universities in the region, but the universities noted that the alliance had arisen out of extensive existing collaborations in engineering and physical sciences.

Eastern ARC, all three of whose constituents are so-called plate-glass universities, will be based on current collaborations in the natural and environmental sciences and the arts and humanities, and will aim to develop new cross-disciplinary research. It will also fund six research fellows and 18 PhD studentships over five years.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, said the arrangement was “more than just a regional collaboration”.

“It is a long-term agreement based on synergies between our world-class research portfolios. As we celebrate our 50th anniversaries, combining our considerable research expertise will enable us to respond better to the challenges of the research funding environment, and to make an even greater contribution to global wellbeing over the next 50 years,” she said.

Most English research-intensive universities are now members of a regional alliance, although several south-eastern institutions, including most London-based institutions, remained unaligned.

Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, of which Essex and East Anglia are both members, said: “In today’s environment, modern research is much more collaborative - across disciplines, institutions and countries. [Collaboration] enables institutions to build on their areas of world-leading research and in a time of economic austerity can result in efficiencies and cost sharing.”

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