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Rare directorship helps raise rural standards;FE Focus

Scientific investigation is no longer the preserve of a few universities. Simon Midgley reports on a new academic drift

CORNWALL College, the largest rural college in the UK, is unusual in having a designated director of research.

He is Dr Leo Salter, a former associate professor of physical chemistry at the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa.

He is one of a rare breed of academics able to span CP Snow's Two Cultures. Thus he has a BA and MA in English literature and a BSc and PhD in chemistry.

He was appointed by Cornwall College nearly four years ago in a bid to ensure that the college could demonstrate evidence of scholarly activity to support the demands of university validation for its degrees.

It was also felt that research could improve professional awareness, bring in consultancy work, establish a greater college presence in the region and generally lead to higher standards in all college activities.

Dr Salter said research also improves staff qualifications and encourages reflective practitioners. "There is a hard core of people committed to research now," he said. "I think it's going to make a big difference."

His college is involved with field trials for crops, work on air pollution, research into skin cancer and into the ecology of the threatened lesser horseshoe bat, and a scheme to tackle pollution in a large lake.

All this work is funded by external bodies such as English Nature, charities, businesses and local councils.

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