Is undergraduate teaching a major contributor to high-quality research in the sciences - as was considered by the Robbins report in the 1960s - or an encumbrance?
Using 1996 figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, I have found that, for biology departments submitting to unit of assessment 14 (biology), there is an inverse correlation (r=0.95, slope=0.3) between RAE grade achieved and the undergraduate student-to-staff ratio of the department concerned. This is even when the exact percentages of staff submitted by departments (not publicly available) are not taken into account (Letters, THES , January 18).
One conclusion is obvious: universities that wish to secure high grades must lower substantially the number of undergraduate students taught by staff submitted to the RAE, and be funded accordingly.
Douglas B. Kell
Director of research
Institute of Biological Sciences
University of Wales, Aberystwyth