The Guardian,
University funding reform ‘will cause brain drain’ to London

Research funding balances general research support and project (grant) based financing.

“Under the ‘dual support’ system, universities are given cash to spend as they wish, known as quality-related funding. At the same time the research councils fund major research projects undertaken according to national strategic goals

“The Observer has learned that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is looking at concentrating all funding in the hands of the research councils, in a move that would probably see an end to research funding in areas such as ancient Greek, according to one vice-chancellor.”

The concentration of funding in the hands of research councils will reduce or eliminate recurrent research funding (broadly a function of REF results). Funding council projects and grant criteria will likely be more instrumental, focusing on big projects in areas that might have noticeable impact on the economy.

Traditional research, particularly in the social sciences, undertaken by academics in their time between teaching will be increasingly funded by departmental teaching or, in less popular disciplines, will become completely dependent on internal cross subsidies from teaching heavy departments.

The big research projects will most likely be awarded to the larger institutions, smaller ones not having the capacity or experience to demonstrate they can deliver as leads on multi-million pound projects.

These changes will have an impact on the relationship between teaching and research. In the past, research time could be guarded because it was independently funded by HEFCE. Where teaching funds research, students will likely start to demand evidence that it contributes to their education in ways other than vague brand and reputation claims. Cross subsidies that occur between teaching heavy schools and less popular subjects might become less tenable, further diminishing the capacity of those schools to continue their research traditions. 

Read the full article on The Guardian website.

Higher Education Commission,
Report: Too Good To Fail – The Financial Sustainability of Higher Education in England

Recent changes to higher education funding in England were doomed to fail for two reasons: 1) potential students are poorly equipped to evaluate the educational and financial consequences of their choices, and 2) market reforms distract university managers from the core tasks of generating and diffusing knowledge and skills.

Future reforms should work to ensure that irrespective of the institution they choose, students are guaranteed a quality education and university managers guarantee their institutions’ viability by developing the research and teaching environment.

It is pleasing to see that the Higher Education Commission’s report includes key recommendations that address these core issues:

Recommendation 3: The Government should monitor its plans to lift student number controls and be ready to reverse them if further research and experience shows they have had a damaging impact on students, universities or government finances.

Recommendation 10: The Government should not place too much reliance on market mechanisms given the absence of an informed consumer market.

Recommendation 14: The Government should acknowledge the importance of the regulatory framework to the financial sustainability of English HE and implement the recommendations from the Higher Education Commission’s report ‘Regulating Higher Education’.

Other recommendations deal with the need to create a richer higher education sector. This diversity is important because, while it is clear that the minimum education required to be an empowered participant in 21st century economy and society is likely to be more than A-level, the three year degree is not the only way to provide students with relevant knowledge and skills. 

 

The Government should not place too much reliance on market mechanisms given the absence of an informed consumer market. 

Read the full article on Higher Education Commission website.

The Sutton Trust,
What makes great teaching?

Robert Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major have produced a very useful meta-study for The Sutton Trust on the empirical basis for common teaching practices.

While the study is focused on school education, the lessons for higher education should be broadly applicable. Inter alia, the study highlights research debunking the “teach to students’ learning styles” myth.

The marketisation and consequent consumerisation of higher education in England is unlikely to be reversed. Pressure from senior administration to manage student satisfaction too often involves acquiescence to students’ preferences rather than the harder task of explaining why the discomfort associated with developing the intellect is an essential element of university study.

For higher education practitioners, such research is essential in seeking to counter these pressures in an informed, evidence driven manner. Systematic engagement with research on pedagogy should be seen as the bulwark of intellectual integrity in university learning. 

Read the full article on The Sutton Trust website.

See also:Sutton Trust (PDF of full report), The Conversation (summary by study authors), The Guardian (coverage of report)
See also:Sutton Trust (PDF of full report), The Conversation (summary by study authors), The Guardian (coverage of report)