Academics 'dare to know' only in retirement

Older academics are taking early retirement to pursue "authentic study" because of modern constraints on researchers.

October 25, 2012

That was the view of Vanessa Pupavac, lecturer in international relations at the University of Nottingham, one of the panel members in a debate held during this year's Battle of Ideas festival in London.

Speaking on a panel held on 21 October titled "Research for the Sake of It?", Dr Pupavac claimed that "the old Enlightenment ideal of 'dare to know' was getting a bit wobbly" thanks to administrative pressures.

She added that some academics were retiring early "in order to carry out the kind of authentic study that is difficult within university frameworks".

Meanwhile, James Ladyman, head of the department of philosophy at the University of Bristol, argued that the "impact" agenda in research posed "dangers of hype replacing rigour".

However, Clive Bloom, emeritus professor of English and American studies at Middlesex University, said that in the humanities "you don't need grant funding to do research - just get on and do it".

He also had little time for "peer group assessment", which he saw as "people sitting around trying to stop you publishing what you want".

In another panel event at the festival, for which Times Higher Education was a specialist media partner, Duna Sabri - a visiting research fellow at King's College London - criticised the National Student Survey for "stripping out all that is central to higher education".

Although it is often regarded as objective, the survey asks no questions about "what students think of the curriculum itself" and refuses "to see students as active agents who engage with universities to create their own experience". It also "occluded the impact of race and class", Dr Sabri said.

She also cited evidence from the Higher Education Statistics Agency that the proportion of first-class honours degrees achieved by students varies by race, even after taking background into account, meaning that universities are "effectively widening social divisions".

Instead of looking at how satisfied students are, the sector should be "asking how far academics are helping all students achieve their potential", Dr Sabri said during the panel, "Students: Consumers at the Heart of a University?", also on 21 October.

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