Clarke and Hewitt come under attack from MPs over research funding move

March 28, 2003

Education secretary Charles Clarke and trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt came under fire from MPs this week over the government's research and science policy.

Appearing before the Commons' science and technology committee on Wednesday, Mr Clarke and Ms Hewitt were forced to defend the higher education white paper, which announced further concentration of research funding in top-rated university departments.

Committee members were aware that many in higher education feared research concentration could drive universities to abandon research for lack of money.

They asked whether Mr Clarke and Ms Hewitt thought there was an inherent link between research and teaching quality.

Ms Hewitt said: "There are many institutions with great teaching but no world-class research. A good teacher needs to be familiar with world-class research, but do they need to be a world-class researcher?"

Ministers said that collaboration was key to their research policy. But MPs asked how realistic this was given a lack of collaboration between university departments, let alone between departments at different institutions.

Mr Clarke was forced to admit that the committee had a point, but responded by asking members whether he should just accept the difficulties or believe that something could be done to overcome them.

Committee members probed Mr Clarke and Ms Hewitt over suggestions that thinking between their departments had, in the past, been less than joined up.

The committee also wanted to know where the government's proposal for 6* research ratings had come from. Mr Clarke said it was already on the white paper agenda when he arrived and it was not his idea.

Acting chairman Tony McWalter said that he thought there was still a "great difference" between the government's science policy and the views of many on the committee.

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