Research cash only for elite

April 19, 1996

The leading British academies have called for the dissolution of the sacrosanct link between research and teaching. They warn that it is the only way to avoid the demise of university research.

In a report published this week, they say that money now allocated for lower quality research should be siphoned into improving teaching, in departments that opt not to do research.

The British Academy, the Conference of Royal Medical Colleges, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society say in the report, Research Capability of the University System, that universities are no longer able to provide the high quality research that is demanded of them.

They are slipping in international standing - the United Kingdom comes bottom of a league of leading countries of the developed world in terms of the proportion of its gross domestic product that it spends on research.

The group claims that this haemorrhage can only be stopped by concentrating research into high-ranking departments. Departments rated 2 should no longer receive research money from the council.

Brian Manley, a former director of Philips Electronics and member of the working group that produced the report, suggested that this cut-off should be "maybe even at 3B".

David Harrison, chairman of the working group and master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, said that the group believed that money that funds 2-rated departments, worth Pounds 30 million, should be combined with Pounds 16 million that encourages research development.

This would fund professional development for teachers in departments with high staff/student ratios and those which did not enter the research assessment exercise. The report says: "We believe that it is in the national interest that research should be supported adequately even if this means reducing the volume."

The report's first message, that UK university research is in trouble, received a widespread welcome. But Mike Brown, of De Montfort University, said the solution was "nonsense". "We believe that any significant university should be engaged in research of some sort to feed the teaching".

However, Alistair MacFarlane, vice chancellor of Heriot-Watt University and member of the working group said that the report could herald a new dual support principle, saying that it is essential for teachers also to do scholarly or creative activity rather than research.

"Pounds 50 million is relatively small in research terms but it could make a significant difference in allowing many higher education teachers to stay abreast of their subjects."

John Mulvey of Save British Science said the report could let the Government off the hook: "The case which should be being made for a substantial strengthening of research in this country is in danger of going by default."

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