Memorandum from Kevin Solman
I wish to make the following points as regard
the strategic science provision in English universities:
HEFCE's current research funding formulae as
applied to RAE ratings, severely penalises those departments graded
as 4 or below. From my own experiences, many departments working
at grade 4 undertake excellent teaching and research. With the
emphasis on research funding, and the huge financial incentives
of achieving a grade 5 or 5*, teaching is often seen as being
of less importance and as such the commitment to undergraduate
students is reduced. Staff are encouraged to work increasingly
on research and spend less time (and effort) on teaching.
If the decision is taken to designate
a small number of universities as research institutions, and ensure
they are given most of the research funding, this would, by implication,
leave the remaining universities to be perceived as second-class
teaching establishments. This is reminiscent of the old system
of universities and polytechnics.
Proper funding needs to be implemented
for both teaching and research to be undertaken at all universities.
From my own experience, these two approaches compliment each other.
The research outcomes should be directly fed into teaching in
order that our universities can continue to provide the highest
levels of education using the latest technology and ideas. By
separating research and teaching we are in danger of presenting
second-rate teaching using outdated and cheaper technology and
ideas. Obviously some universities will have a greater emphasis
and higher profile in research, but this should not be to the
detriment of teaching.
There should be a serious attempt
to provide high quality science teaching and research at a regional
level. My son is currently at Exeter University studying Chemistry,
but seven weeks into his first year the vice-chancellor decided
to axe the department. The manner of his decision illustrates
a complete disregard for the subject and all the staff and students.
There is now no university in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset or Dorset
which teaches BSc Chemistry. Our nearest university is Bristolan
excellent institution, and I hope my son is successful in transferring
there to complete his studies.
The closure of many key science subjects
in universities across the country sends a detrimental message
to today's youngsters. With less students studying subjects such
as chemistry and physics, there are fewer qualified school teachers
in these areas, which leads to poorer science teaching of 11-18
year olds, resulting in lower numbers studying A-level chemistry
and physics, and reduced university applications in these subjects.
A vicious spiral. I am aware of cases where schools have been
unable to appoint qualified physics teachers and have had to recruit
teachers from other disciplines to fill the vacancy. Such teachers
cannot be expected to project enthusiasm for a subject they have
University teaching and research
should be multi-disciplinary. I teach hydrology and environmental
chemistry in a university geography department, and enjoy working
closely with colleagues and students in many other disciplines
(eg chemistry, biology, geology, engineering). Co-operation between
subjects is important to all areas of science and where universities
have withdrawn key disciplines I believe the ramifications will
be felt in many areas of both teaching and research across the
university. My students benefit from being able to use the facilities
of other departments within the university and similarly I teach
students from other disciplines. The loss of pure sciences such
as chemistry and physics will have knock-on effects on other departments
and the quality of their teaching and research.
Thank you for reading these comments and I hope
the future of education in this country can be improved.