Those of us at the University of Reading are naturally wondering just how we have arrived at this funding situation. We cannot escape the fact that we are proportionally the hardest hit "research-intensive" institution in the country in terms of quality-related research (QR) funding.
This must lead us to question the senior management who, when times get tough, seem to reach for the axe as the tool of first resort. We saw this in 2006 when a series of financial pressures led to the closure of the physics department. A decision that, ironically, now seems very costly in financial terms, let alone the damage it did to the institution's reputation and in terms of support for the other sciences.
We are perhaps seeing the bitter fruits of this decision coming through. STEM departments at Reading are ranked low for research quality compared with those at other institutions. The STEM departments are vital to the economic health of the Thames Valley region as a whole. What is the management response to the RAE funding result? You guessed it - close more departments.
The recommendation to close the School of Health and Social Care appears to be a kneejerk reaction to a similar set of financial pressures that was used to justify the closure of physics.
If the recommendation is pushed through, Reading's standing will continue to drop, it will miss out on new income streams and it will inflict collateral damage on the rest of the social sciences in the university, already weakened by an earlier decision to close the sociology department. I suggest it is time the management took a long hard look at its corporate plan and asked why things were going so badly. They may not need to look far.
Ian Bland, University of Reading.
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