Harsh words miss Harris's point

July 5, 1996

I am sorry that Anthony Cohen (Opinion, THES, June 28) felt it necessary to address the recommendations of the postgraduate review, which I chaired, in somewhat intemperate language, particularly since there is no disagreement between us on most issues of principle, while on most of the details he has either misunderstood our terms of reference or misread the report.

First, our funding recommendations were addressed specifically to the English Funding Council though "we naturally hope that what we have recommended may be perceived as relevant also in other parts of the UK".

We were not invited to address the quantum of funding for higher education, though we constantly allude to the insufficiency of funding. Heaven knows, my fellow vice chancellors and I could hardly have made this point more forcefully in recent months. To the extent that commenting only obliquely on something specifically excluded from our terms of reference makes the review a "political document", then my colleagues and I must plead guilty.

Second, we acknowledge that it may be appropriate to have a different nomenclature in Scotland from that in England.

Whether or not higher education is eventually fully repatriated to Scotland will be for colleagues there to decide. But surely Professor Cohen would not attack the motivation for our proposals for consistent nomenclature and accurate descriptions of postgraduate provision - so that students can make reasoned choices and have the highest possible chance of satisfaction.

This key recommendation in our review seems to be almost wilfully overlooked by commentators.

Third, in assuming (perhaps prematurely) a single quality agency, we were merely reflecting the view of almost all colleagues that the present burden of both audit and assessment, originating from different agencies is excessive.

My group had no view, pace Professor Cohen, as to whether that agency should be the same in England as in Scotland (in any case, SHEFC very properly made it quite clear to us that it would continue to act within Scotland as it thought appropriate) but merely assumed that, ideally, no one university should have to account for the quality of its postgraduate offerings to more than one agency. Does anyone seriously doubt that?

Professor Cohen says that without more funds encouraging further postgraduate education is merely a "pious aspiration". What we suggested was that, given continuing inadequacy of public resources, some additional self-funding might be possible.

Finally, Professor Cohen is entirely right that collaboration between universities is the way forward, particularly at postgraduate level. In retrospect, I regret that the wording on this in our report is not stronger. Regional collaboration, above all in research resources, is a drum I have been beating for years.

I fully endorse the cogent arguments advanced in favour of "university clusters" by Professor Cohen's own principal, Stewart Sutherland.

As he concludes: "Current unreal competition precludes real collaboration. The other enemies are the usual ones of inertia and hanging on to nurse." These are the issues we should be addressing and together.

Martin Harris Vice chancellor University of Manchester

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