Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex D


  We are writing to you as Chair and Secretary of the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments (AHPD) in response to your call for evidence to the Science and Technology Committee's Inquiry into strategic provision in English universities. The AHPD is a voluntary grouping membership of which is open to any Institution/Department running an undergraduate or postgraduate course recognised by the British Psychological Society. There are 110 Member institutions.

1.  The impact of HEFCE's research funding formulae, as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings, on the financial viability of university science departments

  AHPD represents departments awarded widely varying ratings in the last RAE. Unsurprisingly, the membership holds a range of views on funding matters. However, there is a strong consensus across the membership that research funding has become overly weighted towards the most highly graded departments, and that this can only have deleterious effects on the practice of research and the transmission of research skills to future cohorts of students.

2.  The desirability of increasing the concentration of research in a small number of university departments, and the consequences of such a trend

  Although there a clear case can be made for establishing large research concentrations in certain disciplines, in many disciplines a distributed network of research nuclei can offer an at least equivalent level of creativity and efficiency. Reducing the number of research active institutions (or departments), whether by accident or design, is likely to make recruitment of new HEI staff increasingly difficult and to impact negatively on the economies of less favoured regions, particularly those in need of regeneration.

3.  The implications for university science teaching of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the teaching funding formula

  Until the recent re-banding of all Psychology provision to band C, AHPD members were split between those receiving B band and those receiving D band funding. Inevitably, the change is seen differently by these two groups. However, banding determined institutional income does not translate straightforwardly into departmental income, and the entire membership is concerned about the maintaining of teaching standards for psychology as student numbers continue their rapid growth. Teaching of practical research skills and adequate supervision of undergraduate projects are particularly vulnerable to resource shortages. That Psychology is perhaps the largest discipline teaching such skills, as well as the science attracting the highest proportion of female students, needs greater recognition by HEFCE.

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

  We consider that teaching-only departments are certainly preferable to a loss of particular subjects in particular regions. This is especially the case given that increased tuition fees are likely to persuade ever greater numbers of less well off students to study at their local HEI. As previously noted, however, thought will have to be given to how staff of a suitable caliber can be recruited to such departments.

5.  The importance of maintaining a regional capacity in university science teaching and research

  As already remarked, maintaining regional capacity in science teaching and research is of great importance in ensuring access to science for less well off students as tuition fees increase, and also to strengthening economic and other links between Universities and their local communities. The experience in Psychology is that individuals who train as professional psychologists (eg Clinical, Educational, Occupational) do not readily re-locate to areas lacking the university-research rich environment to which they became accustomed during their training.

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

  AHPD members hold a range of views on these highly complex issues, which concern the teaching of other disciplines in addition to the Sciences (eg Languages). If intervention were to become policy, then subject specific tuition fees would provide one mechanism of implementation. Another would be to offer some form of preferment to those students undertaking joint degrees in one popular and one less popular subject.

Professor Angus Gellatly

Dr Chris Fife-Schaw

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