Research sums 'wrong'

September 26, 1997

The Dearing report's analysis of research issues was seriously inadequate, a leading researcher warned last week.

Ron Johnston, professor of geography at Bristol University and former vice chancellor of the University of Essex, told a Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers conference that the most serious failing was "the complete absence of a financial assessment of the current situation". While his analysis applies specifically to geography, he believes that it is applicable across the range of academic activity.

He argues that Dearing's failure to do the sums could have serious consequences for the most important resource available to researchers: time. He has calculated likely staff:student ratios in geography departments according to their research assessment exercise ratings. He expects a department with the highest rating of 5-star to have an ratio of around 15:1, while one of the teaching-only departments foreseen by Dearing would operate at around 25-30:1.

He said: "Even 15:1 places heavy demands on staff, and unless there is any extra money available - and there is no evidence that there will be - it will be increasingly difficult for departments to find quality time for researchers."

Dearing's proposal that departments rated 3B or below would receive no research money would leave staff in around one-third of British geography departments with little or no prospect of such funding. This, said Professor Johnston, would perpetuate the status quo, leading to "a re-definition of universities by default".

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