An investigation of the development and management of university research institutes.
IntroductionHistorically, much academic work has been organized according to traditional subject areas, such as geography, business management, materials science, aeronautical engineering, mechanical engineering, and so on. Whilst a university's ability to provide a firm education and scholarship in these fundamental academic areas remains essential, not least in the sciences to ensure there is adequate coverage of the core underpinning scientific subjects (namely mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology), there is nevertheless an increasing focus on multidisciplinary academic work. Multidisciplinary approaches offer the potential to bring together different perspectives to address otherwise intractable problems (Haythornthwaite, 2006), and this is especially pertinent to academic areas that have developed in recent years and in parallel with modern technological advancements. Such multidisciplinary areas could include, for example, nanoscience and nanotechnology, forensics and criminal science, biomedical engineering, environmental science and climate change studies, systems engineering, and cybernetics. Correspondingly and over the last couple of decades there has been a proliferation of multidisciplinary institutes and research centres created at universities and other organizations such as hospitals to focus on these emerging areas of research. In this context, complex scientific, technological and engineering research problems increasingly require cooperative and collaborative efforts, as distinct from approaches in the past that involved highly individualised studies by scientists. Moreover, multidisciplinary research that crosses traditional academic boundaries and that can be governed by an implicit need for collaborative working has been described by Karlsson et al. (2008) as an important enabler of the learning process. This work emphasized the importance of open and honest communication within the collaborative environment, and that in collaborative learning the relationship between collaborators can be just as important as the actual knowledge generated. In accordance with the emergence of multidisciplinary thinking at universities, there has been a greater availability of research funding for multidisciplinary research. This has provided universities with an external and financial stimulus to increase the level of collaboration among their departments (Harris, 2010) and specifically to develop and establish multidisciplinary institutes and research centres to deliver research and training capabilities to meet such a need. This interest spans the social...