Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
MONDAY 29 JANUARY 2007
Q100 Stephen Williams: So the STEM
subjects will start in 2010, not 2009, is that right?
Professor Eastwood: It will be
phased in for the funding of STEM subjects from 2010-11 onwards,
Q101 Stephen Williams: But with the
separate metrics exercise for STEM subjects, was that not meant
to start in 2009 or are you saying the shadow exercise will give
you enough information coupled with the RAE to lead to funding
for some of these institutions?
Professor Eastwood: Once we have
built the new model, if we can just stay with STEM for a moment,
that model could work with annual data, so one of the questions
that we need to have discussions with the sector and other stakeholders
on is the frequency with which we run the model. If you assume
that the model is going to be run annually on the basis of annually
collected data then we would run it in time to inform the funding
outcomes in 2010-11.
Q102 Stephen Williams: We have been
led to believe that STEM subjects might have their first review
under the new system in 2009 but from what you are saying it might
Professor Eastwood: It would be
2009 data to inform 2010-11 outcomes.
Q103 Stephen Williams: Are you at
all worried about the distorting effect that the RAE itself, the
change to the new system, uncertainty about what the new system
might be, has on institutions' behaviour? Just like in the Health
Service targets distort priorities, some of us might say, do you
think this distorts academic priorities?
Professor Eastwood: Do you mean
the existence of an RAE or the perturbations that we have experienced
Q104 Stephen Williams: Well, both
really. Does the RAE itself distort academic priorities and is
there a concern that the new system might do the same?
Professor Eastwood: My own view,
going back to 1986, and you have heard me on this before, is that
the impact of the RAE has been broadly beneficial, but we acknowledge
that we have arrived at a point where the RAE may be over-engineered
and there is significant evidence that it does have some unanticipated
and unfortunate consequences. I think that is exacerbated because
institutions call the RAE in aid, that is to say, "We are
doing this because of the RAE", whereas in fact they are
doing it for good local institutional reasons but the RAE is a
convenient shroud to wave. I think the different methodology that
we are adopting for the RAE of 2008 is a response to some of the
criticisms made of earlier RAEs, not least the 2001 RAE, and the
system of research assessment that we are in the process of developing
will, I believe, further diminish the distorting outcomes of RAE
whilst preserving the beneficial effects of both research assessment
and research funding
Q105 Stephen Williams: My colleague
Gordon Marsden, who is exploding next to me at the moment, was
asking about the priority of teaching over research or vice
versa earlier. Just to come back to my hypothetical University
of Lindisfarne, let us just suppose that the University of Lindisfarne
had a poor RAE assessment for theology, which, of course, is a
core subject for this university, in the past. In order to get
a better one in 2008, if it focused all its staff efforts on the
RAE and remodelled its timetable so that the students who are
now paying £3,000 fees for their courses felt they were not
getting a rum deal, would that not be distorting behaviour, an
exercise to inform one set of funding actually distorting another
part of a university's activities?
Professor Eastwood: The example
is a delicious one and I am sure Bede would have scored very well
in the RAE but, leaving that aside, if this answers your question,
in the environment into which we are now moving institutions'
understanding of where their funding is coming from is critical;
it goes back to my earlier comments on Trac for T, and though
institutions will have some flexibility in the way in which they
invest their income, an institution which was substantially raiding
its teaching income in order to underwrite research which was
not otherwise being funded would be an institution, I think, which
would struggle to provide the kind of student experience that
Lindisfarnians would expect.
Q106 Stephen Williams: Even if the
course was massively over-subscribed normally?
Professor Eastwood: That is an
interesting question about brand and the extent to which brand
will be uninfluenced by those issues of quality and investment
in teaching, and I suspect they will be important.
Q107 Stephen Williams: Looking forward
to the future, while we were in Australia on our expensively funded
trip we met the Chief Scientific Adviser of Australia who was
talking about what they move into in Australia and they can have
an impact assessment as part of their equivalent of the RAE. We
are going to have something called a quality indicator, I think.
Is that the same?
Professor Eastwood: I think it
is broadly similar. In terms of the new methodology, we will be
looking at, amongst other things, output and their impact, and
we will also be seeking to develop impact measures which are appropriate
for applied research as well for blue-skies research.
Q108 Stephen Williams: In terms of
the whole basis of funding research on quality, whether it has
got an impact assessment or not, is not the danger of that (and
some parts of the sector might say it already happens) that it
leads to a concentration of government funding in certain institutions
and it is very hard for newer universities, whether it is Lindisfarne
or elsewhere, to get these vast amounts of money in order to have
well-funded departments with the capital equipment they need in
order to grow a reputation?
Professor Eastwood: What is interesting
in terms of the distribution of QR, the funding that arises from
the RAE, is that if you look at institutional level, 75% is in
25 institutions, but if you look at the distribution of quality
it is very wide. There is a large range of institutions that have
high quality research within them. The number of institutions
that have, as it were, very heavy concentration at five and five-star
is, of course, much smaller, but that pattern of distributed excellence
which we have supported, and indeed our colleagues in the Research
Council have supported, does seem to me to reflect the way in
which institutions are able to sustain research even if you would
not describe those institution across the piste as research intensive.
Q109 Mr Chaytor: In the earlier sessions
of the Committee that looked at the Bologna Process I think our
feeling from the sector was that their view was that it is just
a question of time before the foreigners fall into line with the
British way of doing things. Is that your view of the Bologna
Professor Eastwood: I am wondering
whether that is a comment that is more widely applicable. The
Bologna Process has been an interesting one because it has been
a process of, now, 45 signatories, so it is not an EU process
and it is not a process which is driven by a strong directorate.
It is certainly true to say that there has been more re-engineering
of HE systems in part of Europe as a result of Bologna than there
has been within the UK, so to that extent in a number of rather
important areas things that have mattered to UK and English higher
educationthe three-year degree, the one-year mastershave
been things which the Bologna Process has recognised. Our emphasis
not on time served but on outcomes has also been one that I think
has increasingly resonated within the Bologna Process. In terms
of the mutual recognition of qualifications in terms of mobility,
I think Bologna has had a positive impact. That is not to say
that it is simply one-way traffic and I think it would be naïve
to assume that a process involving 45 would involve 44 walking
in lock step with the other one.
Q110 Mr Chaytor: But are there specific
issues or examples of good practice elsewhere in European universities
that you think the British HE sector could learn from? Is there
anything you would like to see us adopt that we do not currently
Professor Eastwood: I think ifand
this is using Bologna to some extent for other purposeswe
can encourage somewhat greater student mobility, if we can encourage
students to study, as it were, outside the Anglophone world, I
think the consequences of that both for individual students and
indeed for our culture more generally can only be very positive.
Q111 Mr Chaytor: And is there a role
for HEFCE in stimulating that greater mobility of UK students?
Professor Eastwood: Certainly
we have run a number of programmes which have been designed to
try to look at the barriers to that, and I am afraid most of this
is fairly banal: the barriers are around linguistic confidence
as much as linguistic competence, and we would certainly encourage
flexibility in order to achieve greater student mobility.
Q112 Mr Chaytor: Is there a tension
in the whole Bologna Process between the driver to greater standardisation
and transferability and the need that you have identified within
the UK to encourage greater diversity and differentiation between
Professor Eastwood: There are
points when those two priorities rub up against one another and
there is a danger, of course, that in an environment where HE
is global, if we are not careful Bologna means that we just look
at Europe whereas we need the kind of flexibility to compete with
the US, to compete with Australia, and we also need the kind of
flexibility that will enable us to remain a major provider of
higher education opportunities, not just to countries in the Far
East but also to India, to countries in the Middle East, and in
due course, one hopes, to African countries as well. The kind
of flexibility and quality that UK HE is perceived as offering
will be critical to our ability to operate in that market and
we are a significantly larger player in that international market
than most of the other Bologna signatories.
Q113 Mr Chaytor: So do you think
the UK brand will come out stronger from the Bologna Process or
do you think the UK brand is threatened by Bologna and by the
rapid growth of HE in India and China?
Professor Eastwood: Providing
we retain this emphasis on quality which I was talking about earlier
in my comments, then no, I think the UK brand will continue to
prosper. We cannot compete on price, as I have said, unless there
is a government which is going to devalue the pound, and that
would be painful for other reasons, so we must compete on quality.
Q114 Mr Chaytor: On the quality issue,
just going back to our earlier discussion before I had to leave
the Committee, is there any evidence that the introduction of
variable fees has led students to be more discriminating on quality
and, even though the drop-out rate in British higher education
is amongst the best in the world, is there any evidence that students
are leaving their courses because they are dissatisfied with the
quality of teaching or the level of individual support and personal
Professor Eastwood: If by the
impact of fees we are talking about post-2006, I think it is too
early to say.
Q115 Mr Chaytor: The fees have been
in for a number of years. Does the emergence of a market indicate
that students are beginning to act as consumers in the market
rather than as passive recipients of what is offered to them?
Professor Eastwood: There was
a lot of speculation in the run-up to 2006 as to whether or not
the new fee regime would impact differentially on particular subjects,
would there be a flight towards subjects which were vocational
subjects, where there was what you might describe as easy employability,
and we have not seen that. I think students do make discriminating
choices but they make quite complex choices and they are choices
not just around career aspiration and institutional preference;
they are also choices around intellectual stimulation and in a
large number of students' cases they are also choices which are
constrained by their own individual circumstances which mean that
they can only study in a particular range of institutions. I think
we are seeing students being discriminating but, as I say, it
is a complex picture that we are seeing.
Q116 Mr Chaytor: But, specifically
on this question of quality of teaching and tutorial support,
are students becoming more assertive in respect of any dissatisfaction
with the quality of teaching?
Professor Eastwood: There is some
evidence that some of that is beginning to take place but, as
the National Student Survey suggests, in the round students remain
broadly very satisfied with the nature and quality of their student
experience, and I think where we are beginning to see that assertiveness
there is quite swift institutional response.
Q117 Mr Carswell: On the subject
of Bologna, why do we need Bologna? Surely the implication of
it is that not only can the UK not run its own universities but,
more serious than that, our universities cannot run themselves?
We hear this argument about portability, mobility. A good degree
surely speaks for itself. Top MBAs, or even not such top MBAs,
are recognised and accepted around the world. As far as I am aware
there is no Bologna Process for MBAs. Please explain to me specifically
why we need technocrats in higher education to achieve portability.
In fact, Bologna has not resulted in more mobility, I put it to
you, because there are other far more important factors to do
with labour mobility that explain portability. Please can you
explain to me how Bologna actually achieves the central justification
for it: portability? I just do not get it.
Professor Eastwood: In order to
understand the Bologna Process one in part has to understand certain
counter-factuals, and one of the counter-factuals here would be
a different kind of process which was a process of greater imposition
of standardisation within the European Union. I think the Bologna
Process has been a very interesting example of the way in which
higher education sectors have chosen to come together, pool their
experience and as a result of that head off some of the issues
which we might have seen in terms of the reputation acceptability
of certain kinds of qualification, so in that sense, granted that
that is a counter-factual, I think there is a positive story that
one can tell around the Bologna Process.
Q118 Chairman: Professor Eastwood,
in what you have said today, and we very much value your contributions,
and we have tried to provoke you, you have remained very calm
and you have kept to your own territory. If you had a conversation
with Lord Dearing, as we will, would you say to him, "Your
idea of a 10-year review is not really necessary because basically
the 20-year trajectory is on course"?
Professor Eastwood: I think if
we did not have the 2009 review in prospect and if we had not
had the 2003 White Paper and the 2004 legislation then Lord Dearing
would have been absolutely right that now we would have needed
a further impetus to the process. I think we have had those developments
and we have had those periods where there has been a very intense
discussion around the role of higher education and the funding
of higher education, and we have in prospect a very significant
reflection and review of that in 2009. I will listen attentively
to what Ron says when you speak with him but I think it would
be perfectly reasonable for Ron to conclude that in the current
context the sorts of investigations and conversations that your
Committee is having are an admirable way of taking stock and an
admirable way of preparing for the review that we are promised
Q119 Chairman: I can understand that
you do not want to venture onto other people's territory and I
wanted at one stage to ask you whether you think there should
be a post-16 funding council for all education and if you had
ambitions to be chief executive of that, but what I really want
to ask you is this. There are signs that the Government is getting
more centralist in its attitude to higher education. If that manifested
itself in a way that was damaging to UK higher education have
you got the grit and the resolve to stand up and bang the desk
in the Secretary of State's office and tell him he is wrong?
Professor Eastwood: My career
has been a career in higher education and the one thing I am passionate
about is higher education and universities and the attraction,
when I was asked to do this job, of doing this job was to play
a role in the further enhancement and enrichment of English higher
education, so I will do everything in my power to ensure that
I play my full role in that.