Research alarm bells

April 14, 2000

Alarm bells have been ringing for some time about the government's attitude to social science research ("Pounds 1m says our policy is right", THES, April 7). Running through education secretary David Blunkett's lecture earlier this year was the illiberal assumption that academic research should be an instrument of governance. This implies virtual erasure of the distinction between research contracted by government departments and that funded through universities and by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Reforms in the organisation of education research, which Mr Blunkett wishes to extend to social research generally, will make it more difficult to get funding for anything that does not promise a direct contribution to the solution of problems high on the policy agenda. This strikes at the heart of the independence and diversity of academic research.

Mr Blunkett is motivated by a genuine commitment to bring about change for the better. But this makes his attempt to reform research all the more dangerous because it obscures the serious costs that will be incurred.

Martyn Hammersley. Professor of educational and social research, The Open University.

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