Memorandum from the Engineering Professor's
EPC RESPONSE TO THE QUESTIONS POSED
1. Since it appears that the HEFCE QR funding
is a "zero sum" exercise, then the RAE is all about
the distribution (or re-distribution) of the available funding.
If the available money is distributed more uniformly, then the
excellent departments will see a reduction in real terms. If the
funding is distributed even more selectively than in 2001, then
all the grade 4 departments and most of the grade 5 ones will
see a reduction in funding which could be disastrous and would
probably result in closures or amalgamations.
2. It is not desirable, in principle, to
concentrate research in fewer departments, but appears to be a
necessity to maintain quality if there is not more funding.
3. The changes in the funding of teaching
are potentially disastrous for science and engineering. It needs
to be understood that laboratory-based subjects (including computing)
have high standing costs and thus small numbers of students make
the cost per student appear high and viceversa. A decline
in the unit of resource increases the critical minimum size for
a viable department. Many departments will now be threatened as
a result of the HEFCE changes in bands.
4. The optimal balance between teaching
and research provision is all about maintaining a critical mass.
It cannot be sensible to have departments devoting a great deal
of time competing for limited fundsthe UK will not be able
to carry out world-class research or teaching. Graduates in science
and engineering are crucial for the future of the UK economy and
that implies increasing the numbers of well-qualified students
entering university courses and sustaining healthy departments
to take them. There is little purpose in "propping up"
departments that are not academically viable (ie comprised of
research-active staff) and struggle to recruit adequately qualified
students. However, for a university to maintain strong research,
the student-staff ratio needs to be reasonably low so that staff
can have the time to undertake research. Any fall in numbers,
particularly overseas students, in a discipline could therefore
be critical to viability.
5. Centres of research excellence are likely
to continue to develop and a regional capacity is important not
just for the universities but also for the professions and industry.
However, it is important to recognise that science and engineering
research is national and international activity. It is also probable
that, with increased tuition fees and mounting student debt, a
higher proportion of students will wish to attend a local university
and live at home.
6. There is a need for Government intervention
to ensure continued provision of science and engineering subjects
which are of strategic national importance. Thus, for example,
it is acknowledged that in certain sectors, such as civil engineering,
there is a skills shortage. The funding model for universities
does not properly support science and engineering and with the
advent of full economic costing some departments, because of their
research/teaching mix, may not continue to be economically viable
because of pressure from HEFCE resource allocation combined with
internal university allocation and taxation models. Possible support
mechanisms include providing financial support for academically
well-qualified students enrolling on science and engineering courses
deemed to be strategically important and ensuring that departments
remain viable by not allowing funding to decline in real terms.