Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460
WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009
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 happeningand
I think it is a very important pointis 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
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
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
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