Restructure that splits teaching and research raises fears for academic freedom at Keele

November 25, 2005

Academics have voiced concerns about the separation of teaching and research at Keele University as part of a major restructuring exercise to prepare for the next research assessment exercise, writes Anthea Lipsett.

The university created three faculties - natural sciences, humanities and social sciences, and health - which encompass 13 teaching schools run by executive deans, and seven research institutes led by research directors.

But staff fear the Keele 2006 initiative, designed to make the university more competitive, will create a division among academics, with some burdened with heavy teaching load and others allowed to pursue research.

Susan Bruce, senior lecturer in English, said: "There is inadequate clarity of how things will work. People are not at all happy about the separation of research and teaching either on a principles or practical level."

Restricting research to preordained areas only could prevent the university from coping with unexpected research directions, she said. "It may not be a deliberate attack on academic freedom, but that may be the effect."

Peter Fletcher, lecturers' union Natfhe president at Keele, said: "There is a lot more interference in our research, and teaching is not going to work better in larger units."

Those not accepted into research institutes would find it hard to continue to do research, he said. "The vice-chancellor is turning us into a poly(technic) with mostly teaching."

Malcolm Crook, dean of the humanities faculty, said there had been heated debate on the changes. "There is no question of altering people's contracts, which are notoriously vague and cite 'teaching, research and administration' in unqualified amounts," he added.

It was hoped that creating larger teaching schools would encourage more interdisciplinary programmes, Professor Crook said. The research institutes would generate resources to help staff apply for grants.

Maggie Pearson, pro vice-chancellor for research, said: "In an increasingly competitive market, a small institution such as Keele needs to position itself best to compete in learning and research. We are selectively funding because that's what the Government's policy is."

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