Russellian logic

April 7, 2000

Leaders of the self-proclaimed elite research universities argue that their research excellence warrants a special level of undergraduate tuition fee ("Willis claims fees agreed", THES, March 31).

One might expect better logic. The wheeze is to rob Peter to pay Peter's absent but research-active professor.

We know higher education is under-funded and pay and promotion are linked to research, not teaching. Undergraduate teaching is always a secondary consideration, with much of it done cheaply.

Teaching excellence, as determined by audit, is not a feature of institutions but of departments. If taxpayers and students are asked to reach deeper into their pockets it must not be to pour money into the excellent, average and poor indiscriminately. If differential fees are to make sense, they must be applied as an incentive or reward to departments, not to institutions.

No doubt, the Russell Group would then declare that they were looking into alternative ways of assessing teaching quality because of the present bureaucratic burden.

The Russell Group should be allowed to follow their instincts and go private. One stipulation: when they find the market too burdensome, their re-entry to the state system should be public and not the result of the under-the-counter, and over-the-price, support that Oxbridge has enjoyed for so very long.

Andrew J. Morgan. Swansea

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