Oral history of British science
Ash, Eric (Part 9 of 13)
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British Library, London
Ash, Eric, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 9 [1:01:04][Interview Five: 21 May 2013] Comments on becoming Rector of Imperial College in 1985: anecdote about change of Rector title in later years; EA feelings about becoming rector, turning down previous chances to apply for Vice-Chancellor positions; status of Imperial in 1985, good shape but needing to put more attention on recruiting students; Imperial in good financial condition; first application of standardised approach to university funding awards, overseen by Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, which revealed that Imperial College had been over funded and led to a budget cut; recruitment freeze to cope with budget cut; EA generally hands-off style of management, except with regards to permanent posts. [06:40] Comments on Research Assessment Exercise [RAE]: initially a good idea to encourage universities to look objectively at their outputs; recent negative practice of recruiting staff specially to raise rankings; potential for overemphasis on publications; description of alternative way of assessing research of departments by their research funding success, advocated by EA and others; staff reactions to first RAE; anecdote about finding metrics that put Imperial top of rankings. [12:45] Anecdote about gown difficulties when addressing freshers on first day at Imperial. Anecdote about EA disquiet at having speech written for him and never reading speeches. [14:40] Remarks on relaxed atmosphere of Imperial College: limited financial pressures at first; generously supplied department libraries; gradual tightening up of funding. [16:35] Remarks on typical daily work: understanding finances, anecdote about chairman of governing body having no power over finances; personnel management; encouraging academic excellence, being in contact with staff and students. [19:14] Remarks on merger of management science and social economic studies departments into highly successful business school: considerable opposition from staff; anecdote about hiring of first head of business school, deliberately hiring a skilled operator rather than a pure academic; joint science-business PhDs. [24:00] Remarks on EA plans for Imperial when he became rector: high regard for Imperial but need to encourage bright students; enhanced contact with industry. [25:25] Remarks on formation of spin-off companies: difficulty establishing borderline between Imperial and spin-offs; anecdote about financial arrangements of computer analysis of electron beams spin-off company; anecdote about different point of view of Tom Kibble. [29:10] Remarks about encouraging better relations with alumni: importance of university-alumni relations; higher regard for alumni at American universities; donations from Alumni. [32:30] Remarks on other rector duties: fund-raising; entertaining of staff and students, anecdote about giving out ice creams to overseas students; anecdote about debates over developing a better formula for distributing funds between departments, being improved by following dinner; fortnightly dinner parties of university staff and businessmen and politicians. [37:20] Description of lavish office at Imperial, previously fitted with separate lift, useful as a meeting place such as for annual lunch with new members of Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. [40:00] Anecdote about doing his own typing except when writing to ministers, and dictating to secretary. [40:50] Description of Rector's flat: anecdote about commissioning architect son-in-law renovating flat; breakfast meetings. [42:10] Remarks on levers of power: anecdote about limited powers available to a head of department; power over promotions, staff appointments, professorial salaries; anecdote about doubling salary of Director of Music Richard Dickins; [47:00] power over space allocated to departments; giving more freedom to well managed departments; anecdote about imposing financial controls on geology department; anecdote comparing EA management of Imperial with Derek Roberts' at UCL. [50:10] Remarks on long working hours: breakfast meetings, PhD student, evening socialising, presidency of IEE, working Saturdays; EA proposal to divide Rector role in two along lines of American universities; unpaid work of wife to support EA and Imperial, who gave up lecturing jobs elsewhere; daughter living with them. [56:00] Remarks on encouraging greater female involvement with Imperial: anecdote about doubling number of female students; importance of gender balance to healthy societies; Women in Science and Engineering [WISE] course; merger with St Mary's Hospital Medical School bringing in more female students. [38:35] Remarks on: merger between Imperial and St Mary's: much work on medical technologies at Imperial; EA view that 21st century would see growing importance of life sciences.
Interview with electrical engineer, Eric Ash