An unsure vet

March 20, 2008

The possibility of universities "capping" or otherwise restricting - "vetting", "pre-selecting" - grant applications is clearly now on the horizon ("REF may lead to restrictions on grant applications", 13 March). I wonder, though, if all the implications of this have been thought through.

In the first place, how many universities genuinely have the expertise (ie, duplication of top-class staff) to be able to do it properly? Career pro vice-chancellors are not likely to be up to the task across the range of disciplines or at the level of specialist knowledge required, so who will do the vetting?

Second, in the case of, say, a scientist (so far it is mainly scientists, but that may change) whose research, career and employability are entirely dependent on securing funding, if a university committee declines to allow an application to go forward, does that not open the door to legal action?

Third, if promotions are related to the capturing of grants (and they already are), will there not be a flood of appeals against both the refusals of university committees and the subsequent rejection of promotion applications?

Finally: do universities actually have the legal authority to debar staff from making applications? There will certainly be academic freedom issues somewhere along the line, too. Fun and games ahead, then.

David Trotter, Professor of French, Department of European languages, Aberystwyth University.

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Universities in most nations are now obliged to prioritise graduate career prospects, but how it should be approached depends on your view of the meaning of education. Academics need to think that through much more clearly, says Tom Cutterham


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