Bristol University to close key research facility from December 2020

FULL ARTICLE

By Filiz Emily Gurer, News Editor, and Louie Bell, News Investigations Editor

The announcement of the closure comes after an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Professor Hugh Brady collected 528 signatories from researchers, students and academics.

The Clinical Research and Imaging Centre (CRIC) is to close on December 31st, it has been confirmed in a letter addressed to faculty members sent last Friday.

The CRIC, which is a joint venture between the University of Bristol and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, opened in February 2011.

Since its opening, the state-of-the-art research and imaging centre has hosted innovative scientific research projects of clinicians and academic researchers.

Ground-breaking research conducted at CRIC has been published in a range of academic and medical journals, with the site used by various research groups including Dementia Research Group, Bristol Heart Institute and Ultrasound Research.

The centre has facilitated a wide range of human research, from dementia to the science of sleep - Epigram / Jack Attwood

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘Following a full review and consultation exercise with staff and key stakeholders that included the supervisors of PhD students and the postgraduate education leads in Health Sciences and Life Sciences, we have made the very difficult decision to close The Clinical Research and Imaging Centre (CRIC) facility from 31 December 2020.

‘The Centre has been running at a financial loss for a number of years and we needed to review its future.

‘It was agreed there was no viable case for retaining CRIC as a University research facility. Whilst the work that has been supported there has been delivered to a high quality, there has never been a sufficient throughput of fully funded research work to reach the levels at which the centre would be financially sustainable.

The statement added: ‘We know this is not the outcome that many were hoping for but we are committed to supporting the CRIC staff team and working with researchers, students, and other stakeholders to ensure that we can deliver an orderly exit from CRIC that limits further disruption to projects and studies at the same time as identifying alternative but more sustainable substitutes for the future.’

Initially, there were plans for CRIC to close at the end of this month, but following feedback from users of the facility, the decision was made to close at the end of December as ‘the impact on existing research projects and PhD studies of closure in less than one month’ was deemed ‘disproportionate’.

Located on St Michael's Hill, CRIC is a key research hub for postgraduates and neuroimaging experts - Epigram / Jack Attwood

The announcement of the closure comes after an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Professor Hugh Brady collected 528 signatories from researchers, students and academics, expressing disappointment with the lack of consultation prior to the decision being made.

Leading the calls for CRIC to remain open until students have successfully completed their research is Jamie Thakrar, a PhD student conducting research at CRIC.

Speaking to Epigram, Jamie said: ‘Although I very much welcome the short extension on what we thought to be the original closure date of this month, I don’t think that six months is really enough time for the ongoing projects at CRIC to round off appropriately, because it is a really valuable facility and potentially the only other space other than experimental psychology that human research can happen at the University.

‘With the facilities for medical and surgical research in Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) being used for the [COVID-19] vaccine trial, there really is limited space where medical research can happen. Losing the CRIC in the long run, rather than immediately, is still really devastating for our research community.’

On the long-term effects of closing CRIC, Jamie noted the potential impact on upcoming undergraduates: ‘If I was a prospective student looking at Bristol, the lack of human research facilities going forwards would potentially be something that would dissuade me from coming here.

The University have announced that financial difficulties have meant CRIC will close in December 2020

‘It’s very short-sighted of Bristol University to prioritise a financial deficit against the global benefit of human research. I think this projects really badly on the University and projects badly on the senior management team as saving costs in the short term to disadvantage research in the long-term.

‘The research community came together to fight for the centre, and one of the fantastic things that has come out of this is that students and staff have banded together to fight for something we’re really passionate about.’

Jamie and seven other affected PhD students have authored a letter to the University demanding it remain open for ‘12 months or more’ to ensure safe completion of research projects.

The letter argues that closure of CRIC in December 2020 ‘would still present complications for the majority of the students affected’.

Bristol PhD students may have to finish projects at Cardiff Uni as University of Bristol plans to close key research facility

The letter also notes that closure of CRIC may not resolve the financial pressure on the University, as the proposition of transferring students to complete their projects at Cardiff University's CBURIC centre may sit between £10,000 - £50,000 per research project.

It continues: ‘If, as [The University] said, the University of Bristol cannot afford the ~£250,000 required to sustain CRIC Bristol for 12 months, then supporting [approximately] 22 students with these extra costs incurred also seems unrealistic.’

In addition, they highlight the loss of staff expertise on the 6-month project completion period set by the University.

Featured Image: University of Bristol / Jack Attwood


What do you think about the decision to close CRIC? Let us know in the comments!

AUTHOR

Louie Bell

News Investigations Editor | 3rd Year Geography