None so deaf as those who will not hear

August 2, 2012

So we should define our roles as providers of policy briefs and focus on what works, while addressing underlying values and political questions about what is desirable - the questions that preoccupy policymakers ("Don't bore us, get to the 'useful answer' chorus, says ex-minister", 19 July).

Elsewhere in the same issue, Times Higher Education highlights Higher Education Statistics Agency data showing that new universities generate more "private" research funding and produce lower-cost doctoral graduates than traditional universities ("Missions accomplished? Research successes compared"). This has been a "known known" for some time, yet government funding still disproportionately goes to institutions that work less well in terms of the "value for money" agenda that underpinned the old research assessment exercise originally and today's impact imperative. Near-market research was excluded from the RAE, small projects with high localised impact were lowly rated and writing in professional journals was disregarded, despite pleas from research users.

There are other examples of long-standing research-based knowledge in education that has been ignored: collegiality works better in managing universities than corporatism; small sixth forms provide an impoverished experience; and so on. Yet what doesn't work has been encouraged by ministers of all hues who are happy to fly in the face of the evidence. This is demotivating for researchers who do exactly what we are accused of not doing - an accusation that shows more the lack of awareness or acceptance among those in power than the lack of output from those who try to speak truth unto them. There's none so deaf as those who will not hear.

Ian McNay, University of Greenwich

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