Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 470)



  Q460  Chairman: You think that that is essential for a good student experience.

  Mr Steward: Yes, definitely.

  Q461  Chairman: Okay. Anand.

  Mr Raja: I would firstly just like to agree that it is, yes, an essential complement and I am glad that this question was asked because this was what my submission today was about. A lot of people in the e-consultation by the Committee are saying that they do not get good teaching, they do not get good teachers, they do not get assessed by people outside the classes et cetera. The reason why I think this is happening—and I think it is a very important point—is that as a department gets more and more research intensive it has to put in more people, more time, more effort, more energy into research, and as that happens teaching automatically has to take a back seat. I do not know how actually to address this conflict because if it is a very good researcher who is doing very good research and is getting a lot of funding, he will not want to teach and nor will the department because if a department has to keep up it has to be at it and not focus on teaching. That is the real conflict.

  Q462  Chairman: Okay. Gemma.

  Ms Jerome: Like Anand this has really been the focus of what I want to bring up today. In the first session I suggested that there was no particular tension between teaching and research from a student point of view but I would like to say that my neutrality on that issue has changed as I have come to understand the tensions between teaching and research. I do not think it is as simple as to say that students who choose to join a research-led teaching institution are fully aware of the implications this may have on the quality of teaching they experience during their degree. It is now time to ask the wider student population what research-led teaching means to them, and I think up to now the collection of evidence has been prescriptive and rhetorical; it is really seeking to qualify the recognition of research benefits within higher education without acknowledging the consequences of this. Personally I come from a university which considers itself a research-led teaching institution and my particular department has recently had three or four star qualified as research leaders by the RAE, so I understand the benefits of that but I would implore the Committee to take note that the current situation at Liverpool is an indication that there continues to be a tension between research and scholarship, and I would argue that in spite of the rhetoric for the benefits of research-led teaching, like attracting world class researchers and facilitating a culture of original enquiry this does not necessarily correlate to a positive student experience. For example, we are proposing to double the tuition fees so should we not be putting more of a focus on these active consumers as we call the students. There needs to be much more focus on teaching.

  Q463  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Alasdair.

  Mr Farquharson: I more or less agree with much of what Gemma and Anand have said about this. In principle the research is good because it can add to the status of the university of course, but then there is the funding issue and care has to be taken to not draw too many academic members of staff, as far as the students are concerned, away from the teaching side of matters and into research. It is a difficult one really because universities are struggling now for funding so the attraction of research work is obviously very high.

  Q464  Chairman: Carrie.

  Ms Donaghy: I definitely think that research complements teaching, a teacher who does research will be top of their subject, but I do think that it is not 100% essential, there needs to be a balance struck between the two.

  Q465  Chairman: Where do you think that balance is at the moment?

  Ms Donaghy: In my experience the balance is probably more on the teaching side and less research but if there was a balance between the two it would be excellent.

  Q466  Chairman: Okay. Ricky.

  Mr Chotai: Research is definitely needed, some of my best lecturers and academic staff are those who have participated in research. Looking at the divide of just having a teaching-only university essentially, are they just going to have a standard curriculum, is it just going to be an extension of high school? What makes a university experience unique is that a lecturer can stand there and say "I have been undertaking research in this; this is how it relates to the theory"—that is what brings a lecture alive, otherwise lecturers are just reading from textbooks and that is not stimulating, stimulation is the key.

  Q467  Dr Iddon: Can I just refer to the e-consultation and the evidence in general because that is why we have got them back today and I do not think we have posed the question. I do not know if you have had the time to read much of the evidence that was on the internet for you but is there any other outstanding point that you want to make a comment on this morning or that anyone else has said during this entire inquiry, or have we covered most of the points this morning?

  Mr Raja: I might be repetitive but I would just like to emphasise this point because this came out very strongly in the e-consultation that has been run by this Committee. Basically a lot of students are complaining that contact hours are less than enough. Quite a few lecturers are teaching with extreme distaste for the job, also reflected in negligible contact outside lectures and poor feedback on written work. A lot of teaching is outsourced to postgraduates who often miss the mark. The group tutorials are extinct. I think this problem with teaching is very highly prevalent in research-intensive universities because naturally people who have to move their department forward and want to move their careers forward would want to do research and get funding and move on, rather than spend their time with undergraduates. That is precisely what is happening and that is reflected in this problem with teaching. That strongly comes across to anybody who reads the e-consultation.

  Mr Chotai: Universities have got to focus on the feedback and the quality and standard of teaching; that is what has come across from reading the notes on the inquiry, that is what students want. We are now paying £3000 in fees and if that is going to be lifted, students are consumers and they want to ensure that they are getting value for money for the amount they are paying for their education.

  Q468  Dr Iddon: Has any lecturer at Salford handed out to you a sheet saying, you know, measure the quality of my lecture or lecture course?

  Mr Chotai: Yes, module evaluation is standard practice across all modules and across all degrees, they do look at that and they do improve year on year.

  Q469  Dr Iddon: Is that true of all the universities that are represented here?

  Mr Farquharson: Yes.

  Ms Jerome: Yes.

  Mr Steward: Yes.

  Q470  Chairman: Gemma, the last word from you.

  Ms Jerome: Ricky and Carrie pointed out that of course it is brilliant that if your lecturers are strong in their research it does add to the experience of being a student, but we are missing the point that particularly members of the Russell Group, if they are pushing for most of their funding to come from research, then that is having a very negative impact on some students. For example, some departments are potentially being closed at Liverpool because of the perceived disproportionate emphasis on research against teaching, so even if your teaching is strong if your research is not then that is having a negative impact on the student experience.

  Mr Farquharson: There is another element to this as well and that is the fact that many lecturers now when they reach a certain age are being forced to retire. The Open University has suffered from this and so has Wolverhampton, and you are losing therefore very good academic members of staff with a lot of experience, who like teaching, but are not in research. They are being lost to the student body.

  Chairman: As someone who is being forced to retire I have a lot of sympathy with that, but could I thank you all very much indeed for coming back, for being part of our inquiry and indeed for taking such a close interest. Throughout our inquiry one of the most exciting elements in terms of our witness sessions has been with students. After all, this was an inquiry about students and universities so thank you all very much indeed.

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