We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

University College


Durham Castle Lecture: Prof. Peter Coveney

13th December 2017, 20:00 to 21:30, Great Hall, Durham Castle

Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Centre for Computational Science, University College London

The Future of the University Series

'The Future of Scientific Resarch in UK Universities'

Over the past fifteen years, we have witnessed a series of events which have collectively served to transform the environment in which scientific research is conducted in U.K. universities.

The changes have included a 300 % increase in fees payable by home students and a steady increase in the very high fees payable by overseas students.

Funding of research in U.K. universities has been changed beyond recognition by the introduction of the so-called "full economic cost model". The net result of this has been the halving of the number of grants funded and the top slicing of up to 50% and beyond of those that are funded straight to the institution, not the grant holder. Overall, there is less research being performed. Is it of higher quality because the overheads are used to provide a first rate environment in which to conduct the research?

We shall trace the pathway of the indirect costs within U.K. universities and look at where these sizeable sums of money have ended up.

The full economic cost model is so attractive to management inside research led U.K. universities that the blueprint is applied willy-nilly to assess the activities of academics, and the value of their research, regardless of where their funding is coming from. We shall illustrate the black hole into which universities have fallen as senior managers seek to exploit these side products of modern scientific research in U.K. Meta activities such as HEFCE's REF consume unconscionable quantities of academics' time, determine university IT and other policies, in the hope of attracting ever more income, but have done little to assist with the prosecution of more and better science. Indeed, it may be argued that they have had the opposite effect.

Innovation, the impact on the economy resulting from U.K. universities' activities, shows few signs of lifting off. We shall explore the reasons for this; they reside in a wilful confusion of universities' roles as public institutions with the overwhelming desire to run them as businesses. Despite the egregious failure of market capitalism in 2008, their management cadres simply cannot stop themselves wanting to ape the private sector.

And finally, there is the looming shadow of Brexit. We shall assess the ways in which the withdrawal of U.K. from the E.U. will further substantially undermine the U.K.'s ability to perform fundamental scientific research over the coming decades.


Prof Peter V. Coveney holds a chair in Physical Chemistry at University College London (UCL). He is Director of the Centre for Computational Science (CCS) and of the Computational Life and Medical Sciences Network (CLMS) at UCL. Coveney is active in a broad area of interdisciplinary research including condensed matter physics and chemistry, materials science, as well as life and medical sciences in all of which high performance computing plays a major role.

He has published more than 350 scientific papers and co-authored two best-selling books (The Arrow of Time and Frontiers of Complexity, both with Roger Highfield) and is lead author of the first textbook on Computational Biomedicine (Oxford University Press, 2014). Coveney is a founding member of the UK Government’s E-Initiative Leadership Council and a Medical Academy Nominated Expert to the UK Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology on Data, Algorithms and Modelling which has led to the creation of the London based Turing Institute.

Contact for more information about this event.

Download this event in iCalendar format

Watch the Durham Castle Lecture Series: Video Archive

Cutting Edge at Castle