Union rounds on RAE debacle

June 7, 2002

Phil Baty reports on Natfhe's angry mood at the union's Torquay conference

Ministers and funding chiefs are undermining the very nature of higher education by forcibly reducing some universities to a teaching-only role, lecturers' union Natfhe has warned.

Natfhe delegates in Torquay unanimously passed a series of damning motions attacking the government and the Higher Education Funding Council for England for failing to reward improvements in research performance by many of Britain's new universities in the research assessment exercise. The "disgusting" move would turn most new universities into factories, and ensure that they could offer only a "bog-standard" education, delegates heard.

A motion from East Midlands region said: "Conference condemns the decision of Hefce to reduce research funding for departments rated 3, 4, and 5."

It said that new universities had made dramatic improvements in the quality of their research despite limited resources and should have doubled their share of research cash. "But most new universities will see little or no extra funding."

A Southwestern region motion said that the decision was "deplorable", and went on, "conference calls on the government to supply sufficient additional funds to support research adequately and urges Hefce to make fundamental changes in its approach to and definition of research in the future".

A Southern region motion said that the RAE was "fundamentally flawed". The delegates resolved to "campaign for the replacement of the RAE with a funding system which will stimulate and reward research in all HEIs and recognise the need for all HE lecturers to engage in research and scholarly activity".

Mick Jardine from Southern region said: "All institutions must do research. It is not just a need, research is inseparable from teaching. We will not be made a bog-standard sector."

Delegates said that the move would create huge divisions. Alan Cousins of the Southwestern region said that funding council chief executive Sir Howard Newby had said there was no question of trying to stop institutions from undertaking research, "but he stops them doing it by taking the money away from them".

Mary Davis of Inner London said the generally "pathetic" level of funding was damaging academic freedom by forcing universities to seek commercial sponsors that would "turn our universities into factories where the only research done will be done by the McDonald's chair of human nutrition".

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