Immeasurable loss

April 3, 2008

Alan Ryan makes much sense ("End this mass delusion", 20 March), but his article does appear to be elitist and contradictory regarding PhD student opportunities. On the one hand, he argues that "new" universities will not be cutting edge in research and, on the other, he suggests that they are anyway focusing on different areas of study from that in "traditional" universities.

If this is the case, then can there not be good-quality research and publications within these "emerging" areas of research? After all, the previous research assessment exercise facilitated the funding of emerging research such as sports and related areas, of which some of us in these new universities were eager recipients. To suggest that new universities should not support PhD programmes is to undermine the considerable research in these areas and the consequential successful PhDs.

Clearly, PhD supervision can successfully be undertaken only by academics who are active researchers and publishing in a variety of ways (not merely recognised scholarly journals). It must also be hoped that there are such people in these universities.

As a member of probably one of the newest new universities, I and my colleagues in sport and tourism received funding, albeit small, from the last RAE, part of which is used to fund PhD bursary students in this area. As a consequence, we have had the privilege to supervise many PhD students (as well as part-time self-funded students) to successful completion who have gone on to become lecturers and researchers in UK and abroad in both new and traditional universities.

The added value these students bring to the research and academic culture of the university is immeasurable. Unfortunately, in the current climate the immeasurable tends to be ignored and often rendered invisible.

Barbara Humberstone, Professor of the sociology of sport and outdoor education, Bucks New University.

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