Government models 'disastrous', says UCU

October 13, 2006

Replacing the research assessment exercise with any of the models proposed in the Government's metrics consultation could crush academic freedom and increase pressure on academics to change their research findings, union leaders will argue this week, writes Anthea Lipsett.

Gill Howie of the University and College Union's national executive, told The Times Higher that a model based on research income would reinforce a conservative system and cause problems for academic freedom and blue-skies research.

Dr Howie, who was expected to call for a broader-based system of funding research at this week's UCU research conference, said: "All the models rely on universities matching research funding brought in from outside. This raises a host of problems as to how you would fund research that does not have external funding."

Academic research would be skewed to fit funders' agendas and pressure would increase on academics to change their results to suit funders, Dr Howie said.

"Ten per cent of scientists have had pressure put on them by external funders to modify their research findings. That will increase if the only possibility for getting (university) funding is when it matches money coming in from an external source."

Dr Howie said that researchers would be prevented from pursuing their own projects and research agendas.

"For the arts and humanities, it would be a complete disaster. The divide coming up between arts and humanities and science subjects is segregating work that is being done and concentrating particular universities in particular areas. We believe universities require coverage across all those disciplines."

There would also be "terrible problems" with equal opportunities under a metrics system, Dr Howie said.

"The Government needs to look at its approach to funding models and allow room for creativity. Per-capita funding would allow that."

Roger Brown, vice-chancellor of Southampton Solent University, will also speak at the conference. He was expected to suggest that universities receive a block grant for all their activities or, if they fund research separately, the money they receive be based on the number of full-time academic staff they have.

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