Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 37

Memorandum from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB)

  ASAB was founded in 1936 to promote the study of animal behaviour, and membership is open to all who share this interest. It has approximately 2,000 members from Britain, Europe and many other countries outside North America (where it has close links with its sister society The Animal Behavior Society [ABS]). Many members are professional biologists in Universities, Research Institutes or schools. ASAB owns the leading international subject journal Animal Behaviour, which it co-edits with the ABS, promotes the study of animal behaviour by holding conferences and supports research by offering members research and travel grants, sponsorship for workshops and vacation scholarships for undergraduates. It promotes the ethical treatment and conservation of the animals through its Ethical Committee and the teaching of animal behaviour in schools through the activities of its Education Committee. It also convenes a joint coordinating committee of European animal behaviour societies. ASAB is a registered charity (no 268494).

  Responses to points requested by the Committee:

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

  While the need for some objective basis on which to distribute support is acknowledged, the RAE as a mechanism is unsustainable in the long term: (a) it is too vulnerable to game-playing and has become an end in itself, (b) it focuses on only one function of universities: research, with the result that staffing priorities have been seriously distorted and the integrated relationship between teaching and research fractured, (c) it parochialises subjects into ephemeral research specialisms and undermines the sustainability of subjects sensu lato within institutions, (d) the funding consequences of underperforming in the RAE make it very difficult, if not impossible for "failing" institutions to recover. While the forthcoming RAE exercise promises to be somewhat less formulaic, it still suffers from the limited focus of its predecessors. A more rounded set of criteria, integrating the different functions and outputs of HEIs, is required for a balanced assessment of an institution's contribution to the economic and intellectual health of the UK.

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

  Increased concentration of research in fewer institutions would undermine intellectual competition, impoverish research by reducing the capacity for innovation and the ability of institutions to respond flexibly to new opportunities, and impact on the sustainability of high quality teaching within the sector.

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

  It is widely acknowledged that the existing level of support for science teaching is inadequate. There is a particular problem with supporting practical work, which has dwindled dramatically in some areas, especially the biological sciences. At a time when the predominant focus of higher education funding is on research, it is a matter of serious concern that opportunities for practical training and independent project work are such notable casualties of the shortfall. There has been a similarly worrying decline in support for fundamental systematic biology, which is crucial to any understanding of the natural world. As a society concerned with whole organism animal biology, we are also concerned about the increasing unsustainability of animal-based teaching and research training in UK institutions as a result of the constraints of Home Office and Health & Safety legislation and the soaring costs of animal maintenance as institutional charges become centralised and geared to full cost recovery research. In saying this, ASAB regards the ethical regulation of animal-based research and teaching, and the principle of the 3Rs, as of paramount importance, and would draw attention to its own ethical guidelines and review processes in this respect (www.asab.org). The issue is one of sufficient resourcing to embrace these needs within the demands of high level teaching.

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

  Teaching and research are mutually reinforcing within a higher education context. Research informs high quality teaching and provides the "added value" of university courses to bright students, while teaching enthuses, and begins to train, the next generation of researchers. Teaching would inevitably take on an impoverished, second-hand quality in teaching-only institutions and should remain in partnership with research throughout the sector.

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

  Useful where naturally appropriate, but should not be a required goal of any institution.

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

  Ensuring strategic subject provision across the sector is vital. One way of encouraging this is to reward institutions for the rounded scholarship (integrated teaching and research profile) of their provision, rather than focusing narrowly on research performance, which has a disruptive effect on the balance and sustainability of subject areas. Specific financial incentives to attract students or fund new posts in strategic areas are also likely to be effective

January 2005



 
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