No cash equals crisis

September 5, 2003

Concentrating funding on the elite has roused despair and defiance. The THES reports.

University education departments have reached crisis point following the withdrawal of research funding for the discipline in 41 institutions, according to a study out next week.

Analysis of the impact of research selectivity has found a "general sense of betrayal" in the universities affected, predominantly those from the post-1992 sector, and warns of a knock-on effect on older institutions.

"The bigger picture is one of widespread waste and loss of research expertise and capacity, and a deterioration in the potential for research to improve the quality of teaching," the researchers say.

Marion Dadds and Chris Kynch of St Martin's College, Lancaster, have based their findings on interviews in departments that have had research funding removed.

They will present their work in Edinburgh next Saturday at the British Educational Research Association conference.

They will report that an unknown number of jobs for research assistants, associates, fellows and administrators have disappeared as a result of the concentration of funding on a handful of institutions.

"There is a feeling that the academic community has been split," they will report.

Interviewees said working in a teaching-only institution was not acceptable. Despite attempts to find alternative sources of funding, the situation was likely to result in many senior academics moving to posts overseas.

Michael Bassey, academic secretary of Bera, described the position as a "disaster". Of about 2,000 researchers funded before the 2001 research assessment exercise, one-third would get nothing and another third would receive reduced funding.

"Educational progress requires the rigorous search for new understanding leading to new policies and practices," he said. The cutbacks are a national disaster because they deplete the "already frail evidence base".

Ian Stronach, research professor at Manchester Metropolitan University's Institute of Education, will tell delegates that the binary divide is back.

"The white paper claims that the boundary will be permeable," he said.

"Regular reassessments will ensure that as strong new institutions and consortia develop they can also be recognised as leading institutions.

"But if they have overwhelmingly transferred research investment to an elite, removed the powers to award doctoral degrees, and starved research of resources, then what phoenix-like process will enable new centres of excellence to emerge?"

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