Academic Digital

Austerity will usher in new technological age, v-c says @timeshighered

UUK president-elect foresees IT benefits among the coalition carnage. Hannah Fearn reports

Universities that are forced to get by on dwindling budgets will drive a revolution in information technology, the next president of Universities UK has predicted.

Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, opened the Jisc annual conference in Liverpool this week by arguing that funding shortages would help to improve the use of IT within the academy.

He warned that state funding for universities would decrease faster than rises in tuition-fee income, but said this would encourage the sector to “do more with less” when it came to the use and development of new technology.

“This may well lead to important step changes in technology as we race to be even more effective,” he said.

Speaking to Times Higher Education in advance of the conference, which took place on 14 and 15 March, Professor Thomas said that universities had been the “driving force” behind advancements in IT in the past, and today’s challenges would herald a new era of innovation, particularly in technology used to facilitate academic research.

“Information technology will remain a key enabler in research, allowing us, for example, to carry out mammoth calculations in split seconds,” he said.

“We are now very firmly in a knowledge economy and that is based on the ability to interpret and manipulate information. This is now reaching another tipping point as the connecting ‘mash-up’ of information from various and multiple disciplines and sources gives rise to new applications and discoveries – many of which might not be driven by the originator of the initial data.”

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