Recognising our strengths

Conversations between museum staff and universities are becoming more frequent. The academics realise that public impact is key to the success of their research projects, and they know museums are ideally placed to provide it. Equally, museum curators realise they no longer have the time to carry out research, and universities are full of specialists who are interested in collections. So what’s the problem, I hear you ask.

Money, of course, is part of the issue. Although universities have access to large pots of research council funding, academics have to build a convincing case first. At the early stage of a potential project they need to rely on the goodwill of partners to invest time and resources in the hope of securing grants at a later date.

Bridging the gap

There’s also a good deal of misunderstanding on both sides. It’s no longer enough for an academic to embark on studying a museum collection on the basis of curiosity alone. Public money is increasingly determined by government agenda and is directed towards social and economic priorities. University staff can’t justify days sifting through boxes in a museum store just because they happen to relate to their subject.

The GW4 group of universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter) are leading an initiative called ‘Bridging the Gap’ which hopes to foster closer working between university researchers and cultural and heritage partners. The first step for those on either side of the gap is to appreciate the needs and priorities of their partners.