This response has been prepared by the Research
Board and the Psychology Education Board of the British Psychological
Society. The British Psychological Society is the professional
body and Learned Society for psychologists in the UK. It represents
nearly 40,000 members working in all branches of psychology research
and practice. A briefing note on the role and remit of the Society
is attached for your reference.
As a general point, while accepting there are
serious problems in some disciplines, based on the current figures
from UCAS, it would be misleading to talk of a flight from science
in Universities. The figures show that between 1996 and 2003,
the numbers of students admitted to science degree courses, as
defined by the JACS codes, increased by 13.7%. Whilst there is
a drop in the numbers for physical sciences, this is more than
made up for by the increase in biological and computer sciences.
We think that science, as well as other "shortage" subjects,
face problems that reflect perverse outcomes of the separation
of funding for teaching and research, and the resultant lack of
integration of educational provision. There are incentives for
departments to compete rather than cooperate in recruiting students,
and there are incentives to pursue research as an alternative
to teaching. These incentives may be amenable to structural interventions
at the level of HEFCE and individual institutions. Beyond these
factors there are societal changes (both in attitudes and in employment
opportunities) that are likely to impinge on students' decisions
about which subjects to pursue. In general, a sensible strategy
is likely to respond to the flow of these changes rather than
attempt to resist them.
1. The impact of HEFCE's research funding
formulae, as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings,
on the financial viability of university science departments
We believe that UK research continues to suffer
from insufficient long-term, and insufficiently broadly based
We do not object, in principle, to the policy
of assessing the quality of research. However, the funding formula
applied following the RAE has resulted in very intensive recruitment
and the movement between institutions of research leaders and
research role models. This must significantly deplete the research
capacity of the many smaller and less powerful departments. By
fostering this movement of highly experienced and active researchers
into a smaller number of departments and institutions, the funding
formula separates teaching and research so that the latter can
take place in fewer locations. It also results in discriminatory
funding such that excellent researchers in departments with lower
ratings receive less financial support for their research than
researchers of equal stature in departments with higher ratings.
In practice, those lower status departments have much higher teaching
loads and student numbers, making it less and less possible to
conduct high quality research. Since there is quite a lot of movement
of staff immediately before and between RAEs (eg hiring of new
staff to match changing student numbers), this means that the
funding mechanism privileges some individuals on bases that are
largely independent of the quality of their own research. It seems
likely that less mobile individuals (such as people with dependent
relatives) and people whose research is not mainstream are disadvantaged
by this system.
Even if it were possible to justify the refusal
to fund "national" level research in departments rated
3 or below, the continuing increase in the funding differential
between 4 and 5 rated departments seems to us unjustifiable, as
the former certainly include international quality research. If
the aim was to bring about improvements it could easily be argued
that the most effective targeting of additional resources would
be to the 4 rated departments.
The operation of the funding formula flies in
the face of work that has been done in UK universities over the
last 40 years to ensure that teaching is research-led. In disciplines
such as psychology, development of research skills is a fundamental
part of learning, and a prerequisite for professional training.
Obtaining a PhD in psychology requires advanced research skills.
A PhD is also a de facto requirement for becoming a lecturer in
psychology in most departments. However, this seems unsustainable
if large numbers of departments will no longer have the funding
(or opportunity) for staff to conduct research. Ultimately, therefore,
although the funding mechanism is supposed to strengthen UK research
we think there is little evidence that it will improve the best
research (which is already excellent), and a very strong possibility
that it will damage both overall research capacity and teaching.
2. The desirability of increasing the concentration
of research in a small number of university departments, and the
consequences of such a trend
The RAE-linked funding formula will continue
to produce substantial effects on the quality of HE provision
in this countrythe impact of which will be felt by students,
academic staff and ultimately society. Removing/reducing research
funding from departments rated as below 4 in the 2001 RAE will
continue to propagate the following effects.
Effects on the student experience
An impoverished research culture
will remove resources that would traditionally have been available
from research income but also used to enrich teaching within an
institution. Within a science context this would include additional
practical facilities as well as research students to help in practical
classes as demonstrators and also as seminar leaders.
Reduced exposure to, and participation
in, research activity at undergraduate level. In the past such
activities could facilitate intellectual development of undergraduate
students enabling them to understand the provisional nature of
much knowledge. It could enable them to form their own judgements
from evidence and challenge the judgements of others thus training
them to synthesise and apply knowledge in various contexts. In
other words they could learn, in the broadest sense, to be researcher
orientedan entirely appropriate outcome in an advanced
knowledge economy. A HE sector in which substantial parts fail
to provide a research-enriched environment will fail to facilitate
such intellectual development of its students will be failing
the needs of society.
Difficulty in the provision of practical
work for undergraduate students, especially the student-driven
research project (often centred on staff research interests),
which we anticipate will make the subject less attractive to students.
This will perpetuate the problem of recruiting for the sciences
and result in a concomitant reduction in suitably qualified outgoing
graduates to teach science in schools and drive the knowledge
Reduced opportunities for ethnically
and socially diverse student populations (as well as mature students)
who typically attend "newer", less research-intensive
institutions that have been most affected by the new funding formula.
Intensification of a 2-tier sector
in which even many of the country's most highly qualified students
are unable to gain entry to be science undergraduates at the most
research-intensive institutions. Places for undergraduates will
be reduced at these institutions as staff concentrate on research
(to maintain their research-linked funding and status), and the
recruitment of overseas (full fee-paying) and post-graduate teaching.
Effects on academic staff
It is the combination of teaching
in a research-informed environment, and researching in an organisation
where that research can be applied in advanced teachingthat
makes a university job attractive. It is the reason why a Ph.D
is now the "entry ticket" to an academic post in HE
and why new members of academic staff in all universities are
expected to undertake training in effective teaching and research
Increasing difficulty in attracting
good young researchers into academia as the number of positions
available to them which will support their research is diminishing.
Removal of the "academic ladder"
as platform institutions from which young professions can get
a foothold (in both teaching and research) before progressing
onto more research intensive institutions.
Ossification into a 2-tier system
will damage (if not remove) the chances of talented lone researchers
of any age from undertaking their researcheven in collaboration
with research-intensive institutions, as the shift in emphasis
away from research and towards teaching makes too many demands
on their time.
Make it practically difficult for
academic staff to fulfil the Government's requirement of knowledge
transfer to private, public and voluntary sector organisations.
(The Lambert Report makes clear that this is a requirement of
all universities, albeit in different ways and with different
emphases, and not just the preserve of a few.)
Increased pressure (stress) on academics
in research-intensive institutions as they strive to ensure excellence
in research productivity within an increasingly competitive environment.
Examples of such pressure include frequent (sometimes monthly)
monitoring of output and repetitive short-term target setting
by line managers. Not all research thrives in these conditionssome
research projects are long-term in nature and rely on creativity
and intellectual freedom.
Effects on psychology in particular
The quality of HE psychology teaching
in the UK is overseen by the British Psychological Society (BPS).
Only BPS accredited undergraduate degrees are accepted for admittance
in postgraduate psychology training. To gain accreditation courses
need to provide students with extensive training in research methods
and provide opportunities for each student to undertake an empirical
research projectall this is vulnerable to the effects of
the research funding formula, as the gradual erosion of a strong
research culture may inevitably have knock-on effects for the
ability of departments to make adequate provision for such empirical
project work. The long term impact upon this expanding science
discipline (which attracts many females into science) will be
that courses will have to close or be "dumbed down"
to the point where they are no longer accredited and do not teach
science. This will result in a significant net reduction in the
numbers of students receiving science training in higher education
and therefore a significant reduction in the numbers who could
teach science either at school or university level.
3. The implications for university science
teaching of changes in the weightings given to science ubjects
in the teaching funding formula
With respect to Psychology in particular, we
feel that the assumptions underpinning the current fee-banding
for psychology do not fully reflect factors that should determine
the funding formula.
Currently, psychology degrees in over 100 Universities
aim to meet the Society's criteria for accreditation for the Graduate
Basis for Registration, that enable students to progress to advanced
training in either research or practitioner areas. These criteria
require that at least 30% of each year of a typical undergraduate
degree is taken up with laboratory work, including a stand alone
research project in the final year. Almost all psychological research
now requires the intense use of high specification computers and
other specialised equipment to run experiments and analyse data.
The specialist equipment ranges from EEG and heart-rate monitoring
systems to digital video studio facilities. Almost all psychological
research requires human participants, which in turn requires support
in terms of suitably controlled laboratory environments, support
staff and relevant safety precautions. Thus, the teaching of psychology
involves very significant support in terms of equipment, space,
personnel and technical expertise. As a scientific discipline,
psychology also relies very heavily on large numbers of specialist
journals, and these also constitute a significant demand on resources.
In sum, in any respect that matters, psychology is an intensive
Psychology is the fastest growing subject in
science. However, many departments are stretched to intolerable
levels. Those that do have substantial research income have to
subsidise their teaching from research resourcesthe under-funding
problem needs to be resolved rather than compounded.
Funding teaching on historical baselines is
retrogressive and harmful to newly developing subjects. While
it is always possible to teach something with any unit cost, however
small, by setting the funding of psychology below what is needed
for a fully effective degree programme, HEFCE is harming the education
of the large number of science graduates the discipline is producing.
The re-banding of Psychology to C seems to reflect
a HEFCE presumption that psychology costs less than it had previously
thought. However, this reflects several misunderstandings of the
situation. First, undergraduate numbers have expanded so quickly
in psychology that universities have not been able to transfer
the funds to keep pace (to do so would have forced unreasonably
rapid closures and problems in other departments). Second, it
has meant psychology departments are always underfunded as the
funding formulas usually make adjustments in the year following
the new increases in student intakes. Third, psychology has a
very active research base, and this has undoubtedly helped to
sustain teaching, not only by injection of funds but by providing
doctoral and postdoctoral researchers who can contribute to teaching
on a casual basis. Finally, it is sometimes mooted that the reason
for declines in undergraduate enrolment in other science areas
is the success of psychology. We doubt there is any evidence (other
than correlational) for this claim. If anything, psychology has
been the source of strong recruitment into science by people
who might otherwise choose subjects in law or the humanities.
Psychology requires students to become adept at statistical analysis
and scientific method and experimental design, and requires knowledge
of measurement in both biological and neurological and behavioural
domains using a range of technologies. Thus, the discipline strongly
reinforces, rather than undermines the value of science in society.
4. The optimal balance between teaching and
research provision in universities, giving particular consideration
to the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science
There will always be some universities that
rate more highly on research excellence than others. These are
likely to include departments that lead the world in science innovation
often utilising large scale resources. The problem arises when
this is taken to the extreme and many HE institutions (or departments)
are excluded from participation in any research culture at all.
The cost of maintaining a research culture in less-research intensive
institutions has been over exaggerated (particularly given that
many of the infrastructure elements are required for teaching
too) and the value of maintaining a research culture has been
seriously underestimated. Only now are the true impacts to society
beginning to be understood (closure of departments, shortage of
well qualified science teachers and disengagement of our young
people with science education).
We argue that it is not essential for every
member of academic staff in every department to be an active researcher
to foster a successful culture of research so beneficial to both
staff and student (as outlined above). "Pockets" of
research of national excellence are valuable in their own right
and should be supported. Systematic withdrawal of resources for
this strand is short-sighted and devalues the quality of undergraduate
education for both staff and students.
5. The importance of maintaining a regional
capacity in university science teaching and research
It may be that in some areas of research regional
capacity is irrelevant. Perhaps only one or two centres in the
UK could study stem cells. In many other subjects research expertise
and skills are very important within a local or regional context.
This is likely to be true of electronic engineering or microbiology
but it is especially true in psychology. Regional and local NHS
can much more easily attract good clinical psychologists if they
perceive opportunities for research locally, particularly in the
form of a research orientated university department. Similarly,
local authorities that need to conduct research on behaviour benefit
from the local presence of psychologists with research skills.
We also reiterate the point that concentration
of research funding will mean that smaller departments (eg those
at regional universities) may become less able to recruit excellent
research staff. In turn, this means that students in those regions,
many of whom have to attend their local university for financial
reasons alone, will be denied access to a vibrant research-led
teaching environment. We do not believe this outcome is educationally
desirable and doubt very much that it will be beneficial for science
as a whole. If "real" science becomes the preserve of
a limited number of institutions and departments, large numbers
of students at other places will feel that the value of the science
they study is low, and that the pursuit of science is beyond their
capacities. Research into "stereotype threat" shows
all too clearly how situations structured in this way can lead
to self-fulfilling prophecies. The consequence is masses of unrealised
potential, and perhaps unrealised potential of the masses.
6. 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
In much of psychology good work is recognised
through standard systems of peer review (eg in journal publications
and research grant funding). The infrastructure and facilities
required for teaching, particularly to achieve the Graduate Basis
for Registration with the BPS, should be comparable across institutions.
The GBR criteria were originally developed in a context where
teaching and research were symbiotic, and thus recognised the
value of both activities for the other. The current funding arrangements
attempt to disaggregate the teaching and research functions to
a degree that is counter-productive in terms of teaching key-skills.
This needs to be recognised and addressed in future.
All professional postgraduate training courses
in psychology in the UK have the Graduate Basis for Registration
as a compulsory entrance requirement. GBR is typically obtained
through the completion of an undergraduate degree in psychology
that has been accredited by the British Psychological Society.
The requirements for such accreditation are very stringent, as
outlined previously. The provision of accredited training courses
at undergraduate level are of particular importance due to the
current shortages in professional areas such as clinical, educational
and forensic psychology.
For example, currently there is a shortage of
clinical and applied psychologists to work within the National
Health Service (BPS, 2004; DH/HO/BPS, 2005). As clinical guidelines
(ie NICE: National Centre for Clinical Effectiveness) recommend
the effectiveness of psychological therapies for a wide range
of conditions, and service users request greater access to psychological
therapies, it is unlikely that even current estimates of 15% more
psychologists will meet demand. Moreover, as with other areas
of clinical academic practice, it is difficult to recruit and
retain clinical psychologists onto the post-graduate training
courses which are based in HEIs. The pressure particularly on
clinical psychology research have been documented by Thomas, Turpin
& Meyer (2002), who argued for greater support of clinical
psychology research in the HEI sector.
Moreover, there are well in excess of 800 psychological
staff in the prison and probation services. This figure includes
psychological assistants, but the overwhelming majority of the
latter have psychology degrees and progress to the psychologist
The re-banding of psychology by HEFCE also reflects
a decision to shift resources designated to area of science to
another. But this is partly a process of robbing Peter to pay
Paul. Financially undermining a very strong science discipline
seems to us unlikely to be a sensible basis for strengthening
science as a whole. As we mentioned earlier, universities often
use psychology as a means of attracting students into other science
subjects (eg through joint degrees and options courses in psychology).
University education is already more attractive
to female than male students, and within science, Psychology recruits
female students very strongly. Therefore it represents a portal
through which talented young women enter science. We believe the
wrong message is sent by downgrading the funding status of our
discipline. This reinforces the message that "real"
(ie expensive) science is not for women. We believe that a constructive
strategy for building in areas of strategic importance is to respond
to the motivations and interests of the potential students in
those areas. For example, a shortage of chemists could be addressed
by offering both financial (eg fees waivers) and intellectual
incentives (eg joint degrees with other subjects that talented
students may be interested in) for students to pursue degrees
in chemistry, The advantages of such a strategy include both increased
recruitment in the university sector but also increased numbers
of people who could subsequently teach science well at school
level, which would then feed back into the university system.