Growth is blamed for fall in standards

May 11, 2001

More than half of academics think higher education expansion should be halted because academic standards are suffering.

An ICM poll of 501 lecturers, senior lecturers, readers, professors and other academic staff showed that 259 wanted expansion halted and 202 wanted it to continue.

Nine out of ten of those who backed further expansion thought the state should pay for it, although not exclusively. There was clear support for a tripartite funding stream - 32 per cent said students should pay and 47 per cent said employers should contribute towards further expansion.

Of the 52 per cent who said no to further expansion, 78 per cent gave falling academic standards as their reason.

Concerns were more acute in pre-1992 universities, as 68 per cent of respondents said standards had been lowered, compared with 55 per cent of those in new universities.

Men were more inclined to say standards had dropped - 64 per cent compared with 56 per cent of women. And 88 per cent of Conservative supporters thought standards were lower compared with 55 per cent of Labour supporters and 68 per cent of those intending to vote Liberal Democrat.

Nearly a fifth of academics thought that the teaching quality assessment had lowered academic standards in universities. Almost two-fifths thought the TQA had not affected standards. Just over a third thought it had improved standards. Readers were the most likely to think the TQA had raised standards.

More than a fifth of academics thought that the research assessment exercise had lowered standards. Just over a third thought the RAE had improved standards and 38 per cent said they thought it had no effect. Professors appeared most in favour of the RAE, with 47 per cent saying standards had been raised.

Government expansion plans depend on getting more people from disadvantaged backgrounds into university.

The poll asked whether top universities should receive special funding to help them recruit state-school pupils. Two-thirds of academics disagreed and 29 per cent agreed. Nearly three-quarters of those in new universities disagreed.

But academics favoured extra cash for all universities to help them recruit students from poor areas. Just over two-thirds agreed with this proposal. About 83 per cent of academics specialising in education agreed, and it found favour with more women (78 per cent) than men (65 per cent).

As new universities have been better at recruiting students from poor backgrounds, it has been suggested that they should continue to specialise in teaching and leave research to the old research-intensive universities.

When academics were polled about this, 80 per cent disagreed. Some 76 per cent and 71 per cent of readers and professors disagreed respectively.

Predictably, it was less popular among academics in new universities (71 per cent disagreed) than those in pre-1992 institutions (61 per cent disagreed).

Employers have complained for some time that undergraduates are ill prepared for work and that they lack communication, numerical and information technology skills.

The poll asked academics whether undergraduates should take courses in these core skills. More than 70 per cent agreed and 26 per cent disagreed. Engineering academics were most adamant about compulsory core skills - 91 per cent of them agreed.

More than 90 per cent of respondents favoured an independent pay-review body to determine salaries. Any plans to introduce performance-related pay were overwhelmingly rejected. Nearly 90 per cent disagreed that pay should be determined on the basis of student assessment.

Of the sample, 29 per cent were lecturers, 39 per cent senior lecturers, 7 per cent readers, 22 per cent professors and 3 per cent were other academic grades. Academics from old universities accounted for 58 per cent of the sample. Only 19 per cent of the sample were women, which reflected their under representation in higher education, particularly at senior levels.

Responses to the poll do not always add up to 100 per cent due to our omission of those not registered to vote, those refusing to answer and, in some cases, those who did not know.

  Election 2001 index page

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