Teaching-led colleges hit back 1

January 2, 2004

The government's message that teaching is an appropriate raison d'etre for the university title depends crucially on the removal of the research degree-awarding powers requirement ("Legal fear over degree plan", THES , December 19/26). King Alfred's College is one of the dozen or so university colleges likely to seek the university title under proposed new criteria, and the critical issue is being "teaching-led-but-not-teaching-only". We have a stronger research profile than many universities, but our mission is "teaching led".

With more than 5,000 students on university-level courses and a growing reputation for the quality of our provision and the employability of our graduates, we feel well placed to become a fully fledged university.

The university title is a natural and proper aspiration for university colleges with taught degree-awarding powers. However, research degree-awarding powers are not necessarily an appropriate aspiration for all.

If it is a requirement that research students are trained in well-resourced research environments, there is a real risk that today's aspirant institutions will be drawn into inappropriate cross-subsidy of research activity simply to gain research degree-awarding powers and, thereby, access the university title. Any incentive for such colleges to spend several years gaining research degree-awarding powers only then perhaps to cut back on research because of lack of public funding is surely perverse.

The Universities UK objection that changing the criteria for a university title will disconnect research and teaching to the detriment of the latter is misguided. Taught degree-awarding powers extend to masters and to taught doctorate level.

In so far as research and scholarship are vital to honours level and postgraduate teaching, the criteria for taught degree-awarding powers must reflect this - and they do. Only institutions that meet such rigorous criteria are eligible to apply for the university title.

The requirements for research degree-awarding powers should be specific to the awarding of research degrees and not be used as a proxy for something else.

Paul Light
King Alfred's College, Winchester

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