Protest while you can

May 9, 2003

One little-noticed passage in the Higher Education Funding Council for England's strategic plan warns of "a mismatch between the government's priorities, the views of key stakeholders and our core strategic aims".

This is disturbing given the government's priorities are short term and designed to turn universities into the providers of knowledge and to turn people into fodder for industry and commerce.

To deny the value of any university work that is not of immediate practical value is not in the interest of human knowledge, society, culture or, in the longer term, industry and commerce.

To have to spell this out is astonishing, but the prevention of this aspect of government policy lies entirely in the sentence of the Hefce plan quoted above and the support of those who register their protest in the Hefce consultation that ends on May .

The Hefce report also appears to ignore most well-established research into higher education: on management and leadership, scholarship of teaching and learning, use of information technology and the research and teaching nexus.

On this last issue, higher education minister Margaret Hodge says she "still needs to be convinced" and that "a good teacher needs good scholarship, but I cannot see an inextricable link with being engaged in cutting-edge research and being good at teaching".

I hope that someone will convince her that not all valuable research needs to be "cutting edge".

The quality of research, teaching and the link between research and teaching in our universities is at grave risk. This may be the last chance to prevent the destruction of British universities - ironically in the name of maintaining their world-class position.

Lewis Elton
Professor of higher education
University College London

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