Memorandum from the University of Wales
Although we have academic positions in the University
of Wales, we believe the enquiry to be conducted by the Science
and Technology Committee with regard to university funding within
England will be relevant to the current situation in Wales. We
therefore hope that the committee will accept this submission
of evidence on the impact of current procedures on the funding
of Science within Higher Education.
The School of Biological Sciences in which we
work was awarded a 4a grade at the last RAE. This means that,
on average, all of our academic staff can be considered research-active
and many do work of international significance. Despite this,
the failure to fund fully departments that achieved 4a grades
during the last RAE forced this University to go through another
round of job cuts to balance the budget. As a result, staff redundancies
within the higher education sector are increasingly the result
of financial rather than scholarly considerations. Thus, despite
assurances from HM Government of increases in the flow of funding
for science the future here is not at all secure, particularly
as the level of research achievement required to obtain significant
research funding in the next RAE is not yet clear.
Is there any intellectual merit in slicing up
the funding cake into larger but fewer pieces and letting the
rest of the sector go hungry?
While there may be practical infrastructural
advantages in the concentration process, recent funding trends
will inevitably reduce diversity in biological teaching and research
and fail to reflect the nature of scientific discovery. Research
has indicated that the most efficient and intellectually productive
units for research consist of relatively small groups averaging
around four people. The location of such groups is of secondary
importance as high quality ideas often emanate from individuals
working alone or in small groups at disparate locations. It may
be true that large resources are required to capitalise on new
ideas, but this is very often more to do with the commercialisation,
exploitation and/or further development of scientific results
rather than the quality of the original scholarship.
It is arguable that biological science in particular
is so diverse that it presents too many questions and encompasses
too many disciplines for its research to be adequately covered
in a relatively small number of institutions. Indeed, the research
enterprise is a pyramid, with the "high-flyers" at the
apex standing on the shoulders and dependent on the efforts of
the "foot-soldiers" at the base. It should not be forgotten
that it is the latter that provide the numerous citations that
give journals in which the former publish their high impact factors.
An understanding of the scientific "process"
and enjoyment of science as a subject and a career are not enhanced
by having to work in poorly resourced and demoralised institutions,
perceived by staff, students and parents to be ostracised from
the main stream, and with increasingly little to offer in terms
of educational diversity and experience. Efficiency and value
for tax payers' money should not simply be measured by staff/student
ratios but by some estimate of quality of experience.
In any case, value for money has already been
achieved within higher education due to a combination of the relative
collapse of average pay over the last 20 years, a massive reduction
in all staff categories (academic, technical and administrative)
and a steep rise in student numbers. Our primary and secondary
institutions are not now treated in this manner: how can it be
justified for the higher education sector?
The idea of "teaching only" science
departments is the equivalent of "false accounting"
and a detrimental step to take when there is an increasing need
for graduates to service the needs of modern economies based on
practical science. At least until recently, the majority of academic
staff were research active in some capacity or other and needed,
therefore, to be aware of and able to interpret the scientific
literature. We would argue that this is an essential aid to good
science teaching in the long-term. One practical example is the
contribution to undergraduate practical classes and final year
student research projects by way of materials derived from and
ideas relating to staff research. A change to "teaching only"
status may have little immediate impact on teaching quality in
the short-term; it might even improve due to teaching becoming
the main focus. However, research experience in successive generations
of staff will decrease, soon resulting in teaching from text books
alone and with little understanding of the "process"
by which that text-book information has accumulated. Many more
students will thus be graduating without a full appreciation of
the value and process of scientific research. There can be little
merit in this learning outcome!
We feel that it is ethically unacceptable for
students who may wish to attend their local university to be disadvantaged
due to selective regional neglect, no less than when attending
school. The research experiencethe essence of science itselfshould
be available to all science students in higher education, as appreciating
and being able to apply scientific method is the major quality
that a science student should possess. Government funding for
infrastructure maintenance and development, along with support
staff provision should go to the institutions more directly than
it does at present. Too great a dependency on the "full"
funding model for grant awarding may benefit the individual researcher,
but will be a disaster for the Institution.
It will lead to "boom and bust" in
higher education and will prevent stability, long term planning
We must carefully consider what we want from
Knowledge without reason and understanding is