PRESSURE ON STAFF
54. The Sub-committee heard from a number of
witnesses about the increase in pressure on academic staff. This
arose from declining staff:student ratios, a stronger requirement
by institutions for staff to maintain an active research profile,
a comparative lack of reward for developing excellence in teaching,
difficulty in recruiting young academics in certain disciplines
and increased effort required for internal and external quality
55. NATFHE wrote of the pressure on staff in institutions
with an active commitment to widening participation because of
tension between teaching and research activities.
Professor Diana Green noted that both academic rank and the rewards
for high quality work were, in many universities, geared primarily
to research. She said that, despite this, there was evidence that
many universities were taking teaching and learning more seriously,
not least because of the activities of the Quality Assurance Agency
and the expectations of their students.
Professor Green agreed that the balance of priorities between
teaching and research should be re-evaluated by HEFCE.
Dr Roger Brown, Principal of Southampton Institute, said in his
April 2000 evidence to the Sub-committee that there was great
deal of evidence that, in many institutions, teaching and similar
activities did not have the same status or rewards as research.
56. NATFE told the Sub-committee that the quality
and nature of academic and pastoral support that students receive
were fundamental to student retention.
The AUT argued that increasing demands on lecturers' time from
other areas, for example the Research Assessment Exercise, meant
that staff had less time to offer support to students who had
personal or academic problems.
This was a particular concern for students from non-traditional
backgrounds who were likely to require greater support and guidance.
57. The NUS also criticised worsening staff:student
ratios as students' contact time with teaching staff was significantly
reduced because of the larger class sizes.
The AUT cited their members' experience of reductions in laboratory
and other practical work, and a lack of student access to libraries
and computing facilities.
Dr Roger Brown said that the amount of contact students have with
teaching staff was much less than ever before, and continued to
decline. Students were increasingly taught in large groups, staff
were under more pressure and the quality of tutorial work was
58. Sir Howard Newby said undergraduate class sizes
had risen over the last 20 years because of a decline in the unit
of resource. More graduate students and teaching assistants were
being used for undergraduate tuition, and, under pressures from
the RAE, "star research professors" had been encouraged
to focus by their institutions on a research role. Sir Howard
argued that it was effective management to put more investment
into "high quality research professors" without diverting
some of their limited time into undergraduate teaching if this
led to greater
financial return. He did not defend this "from
the point of view of the student experience", but he urged
the Sub-committee not to draw a conclusion that graduate students
and teaching assistants offered poorer quality tuition than research
59. Dr Roger Brown argued that there was "no
doubt" that the RAE was the biggest single factor preventing
the higher education system from becoming genuinely diverse.
Mr John Randall said that the higher education system had placed
a premium on research because of the RAE and the way in which
it drove funding. It had the potential to distort institution's
priorities because of its 'high-stakes' nature. He argued that
in some institutions the Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) had
contributed to more balanced emphasis on teaching and research
activities. He suggested that more could be done by institutions
to help people manage their time in respect of priorities for
teaching and research.
60. Mr Bahram Bekhradnia said that HEFCE had funding
mechanisms which recognised activities for which high quality,
innovative teaching would be important, but he did not believe
it was up to HEFCE to get involved in how institutions managed
those funds and the incentives for their staff.
The Sub-committee put the view to Baroness Blackstone that a joint
assessment of teaching and research would help balance institutions'
priorities for teaching and research. The Minister said that she
would not rule out a joint assessment exercise of both teaching
and research, but she felt it was a matter for the sector itself
to consider whether it would be less bureaucratic. She acknowledged
there were complaints about the impact of both the RAE and the
TQA on teaching quality. She cautioned that the practicalities
of joint assessment would have to be carefully considered to ensure
institutions were not turned "upside down whilst you were
crawling over every aspect of the work".
61. We are concerned that the overall quality
of teaching should not suffer as the result of emphasis placed
upon success in the Research Assessment Exercise. We recommend
that the DfEE should seek wide representations from higher education
staff on the impact of the 2001 RAE on their work-load and responsibilities.
In the light of this, HEFCE should consider the possibilities
of a joint teaching and research quality assessment to reduce
the bureaucratic demands made on institutions and to give a more
balanced view of overall performance.
62. We recommend that HEFCE and individual institutions
should look carefully at earmarking funds for outreach activities
and pastoral care, and ensure that excellence shown in these areas,
especially by younger academics, should enhance rather than jeopardise
career advancement and promotion.
RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION OF ACADEMIC
63. The Bett Report noted that the higher education
sector was experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties
for certain types of staff and in particular locations. Although
these difficulties were not widespread, there was concern about
the quality of the field for many jobs. The report highlighted
worries about the prospect of significant recruitment and retention
problems in the not too distant future.
64. Sir Michael Bett expressed concern that changes
in the financial support for students might have a negative effect
on the recruitment of young academics. He argued that the level
of the PhD stipend and the comparatively low salary for junior
academics would be a disincentive to highly qualified graduates
who had significant levels of debt to repay from their student
loan. The chart below shows the relative decline of academic salaries
compared to other occupational groups. The Sub-committee heard
from Professor John Beath, Chairman of the Conference of Heads
of University Departments of Economics, that in economics it was
already proving to be extremely difficult to recruit UK students
into PhDs in his discipline.
This point was echoed by Sir Howard Newby.
We recommend that the DfEE should urgently commission research
on the impact of student debt on graduates' decisions on the feasibility
of post-graduate study and academic careers.
65. As a result of the post-Robbins expansion of
higher education, the demographic profile of the academic population
indicates that a substantial proportion of professors and lecturers
will come up to retirement in the next few years. Sir Michael
Bett argued that the situation would become a "crisis"
unless action was taken to recruit a large number of young academics
to replace the "exodus" of senior academics from the
higher education system.
Professor Beath described the problem as "a large group of
people who are currently serious academics and in 2005 they will
simply disappear from the system".
66. We recommend that HEFCE should urgently commission
research on the impact of demographic changes and retirements
among senior staff over the next ten years, with a view to further
recommendations to the Government on funding initiatives for key
subjects at risk.
67. Overall, academic salaries have fallen behind
those of many other groups in both the public and the private
sectors. The AUT argued that "pay shortfalls" for academic
and related staff in recent years had contributed to recruitment
and retention difficulties, with a particular problem being the
starting salaries for academic staff.
Whilst there is little hard evidence that this is leading to general
recruitment difficulties, it is undoubtedly a cause of significant
discontent among staff. This is not conducive to a committed,
flexible response to new circumstances and needs that will characterise
the development of higher education in the twentyfirst century.
The Secretary of State has allocated £50 million in 2001-02,
£110 million in 2002-03 and £170 million in 2003-04
to be used, in part, to recruit and retain high quality academic
staff in strategically important disciplines and to help modernise
the management process in the higher education sector,
but this is insufficient to meet the needs identified in the Bett
68. It is not yet apparent that students' experience
of higher education has been detrimentally affected by recruitment
and retention difficulties stemming from the relatively poor salaries
for academics. In the long-run, however, we believe it is undeniable
that recruitment difficulties will affect the quality of higher
education. In certain disciplines there is already great difficulty
in recruiting PhD students. We welcome the additional funding
from the Secretary of State to recruit and retain high quality
academic staff in strategically important disciplines. We acknowledge
that university and college staff and their organisations do not
regard this as adequate in relation to the broader needs of the
academic profession. We urge the Government to address the growing
disparity in salaries between academic appointments and career
paths for equally qualified candidates in other fields.
103 Independent review of higher education pay and conditions
(The Bett Report), 1999, paragraph 62. Back
Report, recommendation 36. Back
15, paragraph 16. Back
16, paragraph 10. Back
107 Ev.p.98. Back
Report, recommendation 56. Back
15, paragraph 18. Back
16, paragraph 4. Back
15, paragraph 12. Back
Q. 147 in HC 205 of Session 2000-01. Back
15, paragraph 5. Back
16, paragraph 7. Back
16, paragraph 7. Back
118 Ev.p.98. Back
16, paragraph 4. Back
156 in HC 205 of Session 2000-01. Back
180 in HC 205 of Session 2000-01. Back
Report, paragraph 62. Back
16, paragraphs 14-15. Back
17, paragraph 40 Back