Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 23

Memorandum from the London Metropolitan University

1.  GENERAL

  1.1  This response has been prepared by the Director of the Graduate School at London Metropolitan University. He is also Chair of the UK Deans of Science (UKDS) and prepared the UKDS submission to the Select Committee. The University broadly supports the evidence contained in the UKDS statement. This submission will therefore attempt not to repeat all the points expressed therein.

  1.2  London Metropolitan University was formed on 1 August 2002 by the merger of London Guildhall University with the University of North London. The new university continues the missions of the two previous institutions. It intends to be much more than the sum of the two previous universities. It aims to provide education and training which will help students to achieve their potential and London to succeed as a world city. It is, and intends to continue to be, the major provider of vocational and business education for the City and north and east regions of London. The university is committed to promote personal development and social justice.

  1.3  We note that the Science and Technology Committee is investigating what is being done "to safeguard an adequate level of science teaching and research across universities in England". This presupposes that there is a single clear view of the meaning of "adequate". Without wishing to be pedantic we would wish to propose that the Committee agree that an adequate level of provision would include:

    —  taught undergraduate and postgraduate science courses available within reasonable travelling distance for the vast majority of potential students

    —  all institutions offering science courses having high quality facilities and staff, with at least a proportion of the staff involved in scientific research

    —  within each region some variation in the type of university at which a student can study to ensure an appropriate diversity of provision.

  1.4  London Metropolitan University has a well-defined research policy which recognises a full spectrum of research from the most fundamental experimental or theoretical study to near market research/consultancy, creative work and advanced pedagogic research acceptable in a national assessment exercise. If there is to be a diversity of provision in London, local students, usually the first in their families to enter higher education and who are often from some of the most deprived boroughs in the UK, have a right to receive their higher education delivered by staff who understand the frontiers of their subject and in a learning environment enriched by real research as well as "scholarship". To these ends, we have found, and will endeavour to continue to find, ways of supporting research in a wide range of strategic areas. This has partly been achieved by the creation of nine Research Institutes that are funded following competitive internal bidding to support research which is based on the study of real world, interdisciplinary solutions to the real world problems of society be they local, regional, national or international.

2.  THE IMPACT OF HEFCE'S RESEARCH FUNDING FORMULAE AS APPLIED TO RESEARCH ASSESSMENT EXERCISE RATINGS, ON THE FINANCIAL VIABILITY OF UNIVERSITY SCIENCE DEPARTMENTS

  2.1  We shall use the term "department" as a description of an organisational unit but it will be clear to the Committee that university staff (academic, administrative and technical) are organised in many different configurations, not necessarily in recognisable, subject-based departments.

  2.2  It is obvious that the financial viability of a science department (or subject) is dependent on many factors, the most significant being income from teaching (and its recruitment of students), income from research, other major external income (eg consultancy, short courses, etc) the nature of its assets (eg the age of its equipment and laboratories). Each of these will impact on the financial position and a department's ability to balance its income against its costs. It is therefore recognised that the RAE is only one of the factors that affect the viability of a discipline. However, we offer one example where an analysis of the RAE results in 1996 strongly indicates a serious effect on the availability of one subject—Chemistry.

  2.3  In 1996 the Royal Society of Chemistry published a list of courses accredited for its Graduateship or Licentiateship (Accredited Courses, The Royal Society of Chemistry, August 1996). Such accreditation required the submission of significant paperwork and explanatory text, a task not to be entered into lightly. If one takes the 56 English universities listed in this document as having a "Chemistry"[18] honours degree the following facts emerge:

    For the 21 post-1992 universities, 13 (61%) do not offer a Chemistry degree in UCAS for 2005 entry. For those not entered in UoA 18, six out of eight (75%) no longer offer Chemistry, for those who received a Grade 1 the figure is four out of six (67%), for Grade 2, two out of six (33%). The one department achieving at 3b has also stopped offering Chemistry.

    For the pre-1992 universities the numbers no longer offering Chemistry are[19]

Grade 2:100% (2 out of 2)
Grade 3b:75% (3 out of 4)
Grade 3a:29% (2 out of 7)
Grade 4 and above:5% (1, Exeter, out of 20; note that King's obtained 3a in 1996)


  Note that two universities chose not to enter their chemists under UoA 18; one of those still offers Chemistry the other does not.

  The data for the both groups of universities clearly indicate an effect of RAE grade on continuation of Chemistry. It is accepted that this may be a very complex issue with low RAE scores generating poorer recruitment even to undergraduate courses and/or the lower scores reflecting a malaise within a department (though a detailed consideration of individual departments would not necessarily bear this out).

  The overall reduction in the percentage of universities offering Chemistry is quite different for the two groups of universities: for post-1992 61% (13 out of 21) no longer offer the subject, for pre-1992 the figure is 26% (nine out of 35). The median RAE score for the former was around (lower) two and was four for the latter. We consider that these data are a clear indication of a real effect of RAE results and their subsequent funding of one important science discipline.

  Note that the 1996 results are chosen for this comparison as the full effects of the 2001 RAE settlements will not be seen for three or more years. We believe that an equivalent analysis of some other basic science disciplines would show a similar trend. Where this may not yet be so apparent (eg in the biological sciences) it will happen over the next 10 years unless a different approach is taken to funding for research and teaching.

  2.4.  A graphic illustration of the impact of the change in HEFCE's RAE funding formula is available from looking at the changes in the allocation per RAE Quality Research Unit between 1996 and 2001 in a selection of sciences given in the Table below. Of course, the changes for 3b and 3a Grades are even more extreme with no funding being available except in the small number of "emerging disciplines".

Zero Sum Game—Percentage Changes in value of RAE Quality Research Unit, 2001-02 and 2003-04.


4
5
5*

Biological Sciences
- 50
- 7
- 11
Chemistry
- 46
+ 1
+ 1
Physics
- 42
+ 7
+ 7
Earth Science
- 49
- 5
- 5
Environmental Sc
- 38
+ 17
+ 16
Pure Mathematics
- 39
+ 15
+ 14
Applied Maths
- 44
+ 3
+ 3
Stats and OR
- 49
- 5
- 4
Computer Science
- 38
- 16
+ 16

3.  THE DESIRABILITY OF INCREASING THE CONCENTRATION OF RESEARCH IN A SMALL NUMBER OF UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENTS, AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF SUCH A TREND.

  3.1  The concentration of science research funding into the fewer universities has been at the cost of reducing the number of departments offering science (see above) and the failure to resource nationally excellent, and some internationally excellent, research in submissions rated 3a and 3b[20] where there is much work of national importance which is now unfunded. We believe this is wholly undesirable.

  3.2  The concentration of research as measured by the RAE has potential effects elsewhere. There is at least some indirect evidence of this in, for example, the first tranche of the Laboratory Infrastructure Fund based on 1996 ratings not 2001: where 32 awards went to 5/5* departments, only 9 to 4 rated (all but one of which were in the most research intensive universities) and 2 to those with a 3 rating (both in research intensive universities).

4.  THE IMPLICATIONS FOR UNIVERSITY SCIENCE TEACHING OF CHANGES IN THE WEIGHTINGS GIVEN TO SCIENCE SUBJECTS IN THE TEACHING FUNDING FORMULA

  4.1  This is almost a rhetorical question. Any change in relative weighting for a subject from 2.0 to 1.7 has to have a negative effect on that subject. It makes the retention of science more problematic for all universities and is insufficient to deliver appropriate courses in the long term.

5.  THE OPTIMAL BALANCE BETWEEN TEACHING AND RESEARCH PROVISION IN UNIVERSITIES, GIVING PARTICULAR CONSIDERATION TO THE DESIRABILITY AND FINANCIAL VIABILITY OF TEACHING-ONLY SCIENCE DEPARTMENTS

  5.1  The University is convinced that having a significant proportion of its staff active in research is critical to the vibrancy and attractiveness of its courses and its ability to attract and retain high quality staff. This is essential if, as an institution which is recognised for its leading role in widening participation, we are to give our students an appropriate educational experience.

  5.2  If one takes as a proxy for research funding the ranking generated by the Times Higher Educational Supplement from the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, the "top 10" and "bottom 10" universities show the following characteristics:


Students from Private School
Students from Social Class IIIM, IV, V

Top 10
32%
14%
Bottom 10
15%
34%


  All the lower 10 are post-1992 universities, the upper 10 are all pre-1992. If there is to be any science teaching in the post-1992 universities it is essential that there is adequate funding for research so that those from social classes IIIM, IV and V, already often disadvantaged before reaching university are not further disadvantaged by being taught in a higher education wasteland devoid of staff able to challenge and stimulate them and in an atmosphere lacking in research, be it basic or applied. It will follow from this that this University does not accept the concept of a teaching-only science department.

6.  THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING A REGIONAL CAPACITY IN UNIVERSITY SCIENCE TEACHING AND RESEARCH

  6.1  There are clear data to indicate that an increasing percentage of students wish to, or have to, study at their local university. If this is to include the opportunity to study science it will almost certainly require some consideration of regional availability. We would remind the Committee, however, that if this is to reach all potential students who might wish to study science, it will need to ensure a diversity of provision.

7.  THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD INTERVENE TO ENSURE CONTINUING PROVISION OF SUBJECTS OF STRATEGIC NATIONAL OR REGIONAL IMPORTANCE; AND THE MECHANISMS IT SHOULD USE FOR THIS PURPOSE

  7.1  We are somewhat ambivalent as to whether direct intervention in the form of support for so called strategic subjects is practical or desirable. London Metropolitan University has, through extremely careful planning and use of resources committed itself to supporting scientific research and endeavour to maintain a quality experience for our students and staff. It has also begun the development of a major new science building, total cost ca £26 million. Of this figure only £4 million is available as a capital grant and £4 million in a loan from HEFCE, the remainder has to be found by the University. We are doing this because we are utterly committed to being able to offer access to higher education science for all in London and (elsewhere) who could benefit from it—not just those who can gain entry to a research-rich university. We believe that we are the only university in the inner part of London to make such a commitment. We would be very concerned if our commitment were to receive no resources from a regional support fund while other universities who may have already cut and run are rewarded with extra resources.

26 January 2005



18   "Chemistry" is used to describe an essentially single subject degree in the subject which may be titled Chemistry, Applied Chemistry or possible Chemical Sciences. It deliberately excludes eg Environmental Chemistry, Chemistry and Forensic Science, etc. Back

19   Note that for the purpose of the calculations Manchester/UMIST have been combined. Back

20   3b equates to attainable levels of excellence in more than half the research activity submitted, 3a to national excellence in over two-thirds possibly showing evidence of international excellence. Back


 
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