Silence on funding rules does not mean assent

December 1, 1995

You report Graeme Davies, until lately chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, as saying that he interprets "the relative silence of the academic community over the current funding model as assent" and that "we got it as right as we possibly could" (Letters, THES, November 17). I suggest the record shows otherwise.

Professor Davies presided over a programme of quality assessment, ill-conceived in theory and unworkable in practice, which, after much wasteful expenditure, has had to be abandoned.

He also presided over an exercise in the evaluation of research that claimed to be based on consistent criteria when, as a High Court judge said, "on the evidence no such criteria of assessment existed". It was often based on what his head of research called "a rough order" in which publication in The Lancet was more highly rated than the Chipping Sodbury News. It was also wholly dependent on the subjective views of panels chosen by an undisclosed process, containing some members who lacked personal knowledge of the academic system and others who were able to attend only one meeting. The list of these absurdities could be extended indefinitely.

Professor Davies also presided over a financial system which maximised uncertainty from one year to the next, made forward planning extremely hazardous, and ensured that the former polytechnics would never be able to escape from their second-grade financial status.

As the vice chancellor of Bristol said (Letters, THES, September 22), funding per student from 1989/90 to 1994/95 fell in real terms by 25 per cent, and has resulted in a poorer educational experience. Standards have fallen.

The truth is that Professor Davies's period of office at the HEFCE was one of disastrous subservience to political masters and witnessed the serious devaluation of world-famous universities.

J. A. G. Griffith

Emeritus professor of public law

University of London

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