To mitigate the effects of the 45% government cuts to capital budgets in 2010, the UK Research Councils promoted the sharing of research equipment within and between institutions.
I published a report on this matter earlier this year for the N8 partnership of eight research-intensive universities in northern England (see go.nature.com/6jvpip), concluding that the overheads of sharing mean that it is mainly confined to expensive items, and that it works best when run within a collaboration. Already the study has catalysed strategic collaborations. Some research-intensive companies are also now exploring the possibility of joining these arrangements.
Logistical and cultural factors can be a problem. Most researchers will help friends and collaborators, but are wary of strangers using their facilities. They may worry about intellectual property or whether visitors will respect the equipment and are adequately trained in using it. It is easiest to set up sharing arrangements at the time of purchasing the equipment.
One challenge is to know what facilities are already available. Researchers might buy an item when there is one with spare capacity nearby. The N8 is developing standardized databases of capital assets built around a taxonomy of equipment types and functions. Availability will need to be checked because state-of-the-art items often operate at near-full capacity or may be configured to a particular experiment. Usage charges are also needed to cover access costs, such as technicians' time.
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