Clear and precise danger (2 of 2)

March 10, 2011

If Sir Adam Roberts is right (and we must all hope he is), government thinking is moving away from the Browne Review's "aggressive utilitarianism" towards a more sustainable cost-based approach to subject funding.

However, his suggestion that the current cuts to teaching budgets aren't "discriminatory in subject terms" underestimates their impact on a significant group of subjects - including art and design, geography, archaeology and psychology - which cost more to teach than most humanities or social science disciplines, but are now left without any government support.

A significant part of the laboratory-, field- or studio-based teaching in these subjects is relatively expensive in terms of both equipment and staff time. Yet the government has abandoned the intermediate level of funding for them (the old "band C").

Unless this policy is reversed, it will have perverse effects on university planning, only exacerbated by the diversion of research funding away from exactly the same subjects.

Why should teaching in geology be subsidised by government funds, but physical geography be left to the market? Why should design be deemed a cheap subject to teach while engineering is not? What will be the unanticipated consequences of such decisions for university planning and the future quality of education and training in these strategically significant areas?

Assuming the basic structure of the new funding model is retained, we urgently need a fundamental review of the cost basis of support for subjects that fall within as well as without the magic circle formerly known as STEM.

Felix Driver, Professor of human geography

Royal Holloway, University of London

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