Rich elite to get richer

November 24, 1995

The English funding council took its first step towards linking funding to its controversial teaching asses-sment exercise this week by announcing that the allocation of Pounds 4 million through a new teaching fund would be "explicitly linked to high achievement" in assessments.

In a report on the first three years of its assessment exercise the Higher Education Funding Council for England admitted that "prosperous" universities had done better in the teaching assessments. The move to link access to the new Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning to success in the teaching assessment exercise will therefore disadvantage many former polytechnics which did not do as well as old universities in the exercise.

Clive Booth, vice chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, said: "The more resources you have, the more resources you will be given."

But a spokesman for Warwick University, a prosperous university with a strong research base and many excellent ratings in teaching, said: "There is nothing wrong with rewarding excellence, especially if this involves the dissemination of good practice."

The council has agreed to allocate Pounds 4 million to the teaching fund for 1996/97 and a further Pounds 4 million the following year, subject to the 1995 public expenditure round.

The Report on Quality Assessment 1992-95, an overview of nearly 1,000 assessments by the funding council of teaching in individual university departments, acknowledges that "relatively prosperous" universities with high research ratings, which are major providers, are far more likely to gain the top grade of excellent.

The report paves the way for a greater rationalisation of the present system: "It may be valid to question whether 'small' pockets of provision are in a position to secure many of the characteristics prized by peers - for example, breadth and range of curricula and programmes, range of teaching techniques and richness of learning resources."

The HEFCE has assessed 15 subjects in English and Northern Irish universities, in three rounds and ranked them excellent satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Of 972 assessments just over half involved a visit.

The majority of visits, 58 per cent, were to old universities. Of these, nearly 61 per cent were graded excellent. A quarter of former polytechnics visited were deemed excellent. Only 12 departments were found unsatisfactory - one in an old university. In all, 26 per cent of provision was classified as excellent.

By the third round 94 per cent of old universities described themselves as excellent in their own self-assessments, while the percentage of former polytechnics claiming to be excellent rose only one per centage point to 43 per cent. Their "success rate" institutions subsequently deemed excellent following a visit rose from 31 per cent in the first round to 63 per cent Despite this improvement on the part of former polytechnics, the correlation between excellent in teaching and the top research rating of a "five" hardened in the course of the assessment rounds. In the first two rounds 71 per cent of those with a "five" were awarded excellents. In the third round, this rose to 97 per cent.

The correlation between prosperity and excellence also hardened. In the first two assessment rounds, 45 per cent of the assessments carried out in the 20 per cent of institutions with the highest resource levels (measured by total income per student) resulted in excellents, by the third round this had risen to 78 per cent.

Full list of research and teaching assessment results on THESIS http://thesis.newsint.co.uk.

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