Politics up in arms at cuts

April 18, 2003

Politics departments across England are under threat as funding changes threaten to sever the vital link between research and teaching at a time of increasing student demand.

The funding council decision to cut funding for departments rated 4 and below in the 2001 research assessment exercise could force many politics lecturers and universities to abandon research that is crucial in teaching a subject, such as politics, that changes so rapidly.

A confidential paper highlighting the threat was presented to the national executive of the Political Studies Association, which held its annual conference at Leicester University this week.

PSA chairman Wyn Grant, professor of politics at Warwick University, prepared the paper in response to a wave of complaints from department heads and politics lecturers across the country.

Professor Grant said: "There is a great deal of perishability in politics because systems change so quickly. The relationship between research and teaching is therefore more immediate and important in politics than in many other subjects."

Professor Grant warned of a serious impact on the expert advice available to governments, and feeding into public debate generally, if research into political science and systems were allowed to decline.

"For example, we have an expert on Iraq in our department. You cannot expect to create that sort of expertise overnight," he said.

Research into political systems often requires significant investment in academic time as there is often no alternative but to spend time in a country when researching its political structures and dynamics, Professor Grant said.

Funding for departments rated 5 and above will be protected, but Professor Grant said that academics in these departments were still worried that they could lose pockets of excellence within lower-rated departments.

The number of students accepted on to politics courses rose from 2,741 in 2000 to 2,888 in 2001 and to 3,389 last year.

The PSA plans to take action, including lobbying the government and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

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