Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
WEDNESDAY 6 MAY 2009
Q420 Chairman: Should that be universal?
Professor Driscoll: All students
should have a full view of how they are going to be taught, the
quality of that interaction, whether it is a small group, large
lectures and so on. I think that is perfectly reasonable. But
Bahram in this HEPI report is saying nothing about that and what
we are having to do in the university is to grapple a declining
real unit of resource with a threat of further cuts in the future
to put a package together that maintains quality, and I have to
say to the Committee that I am extremely worried about the cuts
that DIUS are now being asked to face because that will undoubtedly
impact on the things that students are concerned aboutthat
is contact hours, the quality of the facilities they have and
the student support like careers advice and welfare advice and
so on. So I think there is a really serious issue. So concern
about students and the quality of their experience and standards
in the end is money.
Q421 Dr Gibson: How do you decide
on contact hours?
Professor Driscoll: I do not decide.
The teaching teams take the resources they have and they work
out a scheme for that programme that best uses those resources
and best designed to support the learning for those students,
and it varies across subjects.
Q422 Mr Cawsey: There were basically
three points that I want to raise, which Professor Driscoll has
largely covered. The first one was the one about the student experience.
The second one was about contact time and the level of information
that students get when they are making their choices and whether
that should be extended. When we were in America, for instance,
we went to the Georgetown University and there were some American
students who had had part of their academic experience in the
UK and they were talking about plagiarism and they had a whole
book on itnot just saying you should not do it but how
can you avoid doing it and how you can write in a way that is
sound. Then they were saying that in the UK they were just basically
told not to do it. How supportive are we of students in terms
of the information we give them? And my final point was that efficiency
gains have been the mantra of all governments for a long time
now and at which points do efficiency gains just become hard cuts
in what is your sector. Professor Driscoll has given us his perspective
and so I want to know if whether any other colleagues want to
ad to that?
Professor Brown: Can I just make
one point about the HEPI surveys? I am not here to defend the
HEPI surveys; they were done because of no other work being done.
If the Vice Chancellors collectively are now going to commission
work of that kind I would be delighted to see the outcome.
Q423 Chairman: I do not think they
are, though, are they?
Professor Brown: I have no knowledge.
But basically that is exactly the kind of thing that we should
get a handle on really. The other thing I must say, in fairness,
the finding in particular that British students who go to university
seem to study less intensively than continental students has been
validated by a number of independent surveys, so that aspect of
the HEPI survey I think is right. But on a general point, which
covers all of the contributions made, all of the emphasis has
been upon what the students are saying about the quality of the
course. When you ask the Vice Chancellors what they said it is,
"Get in touch with the students." That is fine and more
could be done but there is no substitute for an independent, impartial
expert view of the curriculum from professional academics who
know their subject and that is the gap in our arrangements at
the moment and that is what needs to be done. Go on having student
surveys, go on asking the students, that is fine; but you have
to do more than that if you are really going to get a handle on
Professor Driscoll: I do not think
there is any problem with that, Chairman.
Professor Arthur: I would just
remind Professor Brown that I pointed at four things that I rely
on, one of which also included exactly the detailed student academic
experience review that he identified and it just so happens that
we choose to do that internally and it is very high quality.
Q424 Chairman: Do you publish it?
Professor Arthur: Do we publish
externally, no; it is used internally to enhance. The reports
are available internally to other schools in the university.
Q425 Dr Gibson: Can we get to see
Professor Arthur: I am sure you
can see it if you wish to see it. Comparisons with the United
States and what the United States provide to their students, please
remember that unit resource for an American student is approximately
double than that available in the United Kingdom and if you give
us that level of funding we will provide that level of quality.
And I would certainly add that if you want the United Kingdom
and its higher educational system to remain internationally competitive
and you want to have impact and you want graduates to have the
sort of impact that they have had over the years and the sort
of impact that you enjoyed as graduates as British universities
then it takes significant funding. Please notice in all of that
that I have barely mentioned the impact for research which is
also important. But the impact of the quality of our learning
and teaching and the graduates we produce is directly related
to the unit of resource that we receive.
Q426 Chairman: So it is inadequate
at the moment?
Professor Arthur: I think it is
fast becoming inadequate.
Q427 Chairman: Why can you not just
say that? To say, "At the moment it is so inadequate that
we need to significantly increase the unit of resources to remain
Professor Arthur: I personally
have been saying that for a number of years; I think UUK has said
it and it is in the Sustainability Report. I think the voice is
quite loud about the fact that we need an improved unit of resource.
If I look at the University of Leeds we went from 11,000 students
in 1990 to 33,000 by 2003. Our student-staff ratio went from eight
to 18 during that period; that was all related to reduction in
Q428 Dr Iddon: I want to carry on
in that theme and look at the tensions that might look apparent
between the work that the research and the teaching universities
do. Of course, universities compete from various sources for their
funds within the dual funding system, from Europe, industry and
even from the charities. Do you think that the competition that
goes on for these funds within the universities takes focus away
from teaching in any way?
Professor Brown: There is substantial
international evidence that it does. I chaired for many years
a research and teaching forum which consisted of experts from
a number of different countries looking at this and the fact is
that over time research and teaching had grown apart and research
had become the more prestigious activity and of course the research
assessment exercise has contributed to that. However, it is a
complicated matter; the evidence is not clear-cut. There are ways
in which you can have more links between research and teaching.
The reform of the RAE itself provides an opportunity for that.
It seems extraordinary to me that the impacts that have been considered
are impacts on the economy, on society and on public policy but
not student education, yet actually that is the key impact. If
you are going to conduct a survey of universities there has to
be a productive relationship between research and teaching. That
is very patchy, not just in Britain but in other countries involved
because of the way in research and teaching have been pushed apart,
partly through marketisation and because of the way in which research
has come to assume greater prestige than teaching.
Professor Arthur: It will perhaps
not surprise you if I take a completely different view to that
of Professor Brown because I see a very close relationship between
the research that universities do and the learning and teaching
that is provided. In particular I think the key function of a
university, particularly like the University of Leeds and the
Russell Group Universities and other research intensive universities,
is to create graduates who really are capable of thinking for
themselves. One of the techniques that we have at our disposal
to do that is to expose them to the research process so that they
get involved in learning about what knowledge is, how it is created,
what its boundaries are, how uncertain that can be, the teamwork
that is necessary to deal with research and communication, problem
solving and that sort of skill base growing. That absolutely is
at the essence of the strategy of the University of Leeds and
is very central to the strategy of most research intensive institutions.
So enhancing the research enhances the learning and teaching.
Also, you will find a number of people at universities like Leeds
who would describe the teaching informing their research, so there
is a complete circular relationship between those two activities.
We have chosen to develop assessment systems that pull these things
apart. Most of us became academics because we believe that they
stick very closely together, and putting that at the heart of
the strategy in the University of Leeds has fired up the students
and fired up the staff in a way that you would not believe.
Professor Driscoll: I completely
agree with Professor Arthur about what universities are about.
This country signed up to the Bologna Declaration, but even if
it had not been universally across this world people see universities
not simply as degree factories but as engaging in both the development
and the transfer of knowledge. Research can be undertaken outside
a university and in it. The reason for having research in universities
is precisely as Professor Arthur has described; in other words,
to inform the teaching and to get that feedback loop. All universities
in this country aspire to that, not just the Russell Group universities.
The problem is the distribution of funding to do that. Dual support
was really meant to ensure that all universities were well founded
in terms of being able to provide a basic level of time for staff
to engage in research, on which they would then compete for external
grants. But that now has become a competitive process and a concentration
has taken place on the research. What Professor Brown describes
is also true. That has created a divergence in many institutionsit
may not be true of Leedsbetween teaching and research because
we know now that many institutions appoint people simply to do
research and cannot affordbecause the stakes are so highto
let them do any teaching. So there is a divide taking place and
staff are being appointed on teaching only contracts in Russell
Group Universities and in the 1994 Group universities, the ones
that profess the model that Professor Arthur is saying, so the
nature of the RAE is creating the adverse effects and moving the
sector in this country away from that ideal model that I think
Professor Arthur so eloquently described, and we need to get back
to that as quickly as possible. We need, therefore, to have a
better distribution because the last RAE has demonstrated that
all institutions throughout the sector can produce excellent research,
not just within the Russell Group.
Q429 Dr Iddon: Clearly, Professor
Arthur, you believe that an academic doing research does enhance
that person's teaching, so why have we focused research on just
a few universities when we have so many other universities who
are not getting a real share of the research cake? If we follow
your argument through we ought to be spreading the research money
across the whole university sector to enhance the teaching in
all the universities.
Professor Arthur: Would that we
could. We have a limited resource and you have a cadre of universities
that are truly internationally competitive across a broad range
of disciplines. That is what research selectivity has always been
about; it is why the RAE was invented; and it basically puts the
money in the universities that can do the greatest delivery. If
we can afford to run 159 research intensive universities that
would be great but we cannot apparently afford so to do. So there
needs to be a degree of research scientivity in the system. Michael
has described pockets of excellenceother people have called
them islands of excellenceand they have done exceptionally
well and they have been awarded in the RAE as appropriate. But
if you carry on with that system you will dilute across 159 universities
a resource that will be inadequate then even for our very best
universities, and I personally think that that would be a long
term mistake. So research selectivity is a crucial aspect of the
international competitiveness of our top universities.
Q430 Chairman: Professor Brown?
Professor Brown: There is a simple
solution to the problem, which is that if you save concentration
and selectivity for the areas of research which are expensive
to conduct, where it is not a good use of resources to have a
spread of the resources widely, apart from that you simply fund
pro rata to staff research and then pick up the outcomes through
Q431 Dr Iddon: Can I put it to you
that if we are short of resources, as we obviously are, and we
cannot do what you would like to do, Professor Arthur, do we have
too many institutes badged as universities and should we not adopt
the American system of community colleges that rely solely on
teaching and do not even try to compete for the research base?
Professor Arthur: I guess that
would be for the Houses of Parliament to decide.
Q432 Chairman: What is your view?
Professor Arthur: I am quite a
fan of the American community college system; I think it is a
system that allows students to move into research intensive opportunity
in their learning. It is a system; I think we should look at others.
I have said it is important that students should be exposed to
how knowledge is created as a part of their education.
Professor Driscoll: I think it
would be a very backward step. We are where we are and I think
we need to find ways of enhancing the support for research in
the rest of the sector to get the direct benefits that Professor
Arthur has described to all our students. We are currently below
the OECD average in terms of what we spend as a proportion of
GDP on research, so there is some capacity there; and indeed on
higher education. So the idea that we are over funding our universities
does not stand up on a proportionate basis, compared with other
countries, and we have some scope for raising funding without
taking it away from other institutions.
Professor Brown: The evidence
is very clearly that research concentration has gone too far in
Britain and what you actually need is a differentiated set of
institutionsyou need community colleges, you need basically
teaching universities where staff conduct scholarship as an aid
to their teaching and then you need a small number ofnot
very manyresearch intensive universities.
Q433 Mr Marsden: Professor Arthur,
I do want to press you on the nirvana of the teaching methods
that you have described to me because that is your justification
for the concentration, as I understand it, of funding in research.
In assuming we were to buy that argument on a philosophical basis
where is the robust evidence as opposed to the assertions that
you have given today that there is that direct relationship between
research and teaching, and is it not the case, as we have heard
from several of our witnesses, that in many cases research and
teaching are in a ghetto, an increasing ghetto and apartheid in
your own Russell Group universities?
Professor Arthur: I can only really
speak for the university of which I am the Vice Chancellor.
Q434 Mr Marsden: Could you speak
very specifically to how the assertions that you have made today
about the link between teaching and research in universities,
how those are independently asserted and verified as opposed to
you just telling us that you believe it is so?
Professor Arthur: The quality
of the outputs that we produce in our research and our graduates
and eventual destinations; the notion that universities like ours
will help create these for the future. Nine of the 12 Members
of the Committee, who I presume regard themselves as leaders are
graduates of Russell Group institutions. So there is evidence
over a long time frame of the impact of that approach.
Q435 Dr Gibson: In the good old days
people used to get promotion just for research. Has it changed
because for academics, besides car parking charges, promotion
is what it is all about for them and the recognition of their
work; or is it just teaching?
Professor Arthur: Again, I can
speak for the University of Leeds. We are currently in the process
of redesigning all of our promotions criteria to give an equal
weight to learning and teaching, enterprise and knowledge transfer,
and research. We are in the final throes of how you do that at
professorial level; we have already done and agreed it with the
UCU for all of the other grades.
Q436 Dr Gibson: How do you become
a professor in a Russell University without publishing in a high-flying
Professor Arthur: I would need
to show you all the criteria, Ian. You would need to have some
research to go with your teaching profile; you would need to have
some teaching to go with your research profile, at our institution.
Dr Gibson: That balance, in itself, adds
to the pressure.
Q437 Dr Harris: We have just heard
earlier from Professor Brown that a credit-based system would
be administratively inconvenient.
Professor Brown: It might be expensive.
Q438 Dr Harris: Administratively
inconvenient, financially and hassle-wise. However, do you see,
in terms of fairness to students who, when they are marginal (if
I can use that term) may well drop outin America they have
credits and they can come back in; here it is more of an all-or-nothing.
Do you see advantages in terms of fairness to a credit-based system?
Professor Driscoll: Yes. Some
people, when there is the prospect of an innovation, see problems.
We have had a credit-based system in my Universities since 1992.
The problem we have is that not all other institutions have credit-based
systems, so it creates a problem for people wanting to transfer
in or asking to transfer out.
Q439 Dr Harris: I understand that.
Therefore, Professor Arthur, if you believe in community colleges,
in America you transfer after two years with your credits. Do
you accept you would have to have a transferable credit-based
system in order to have, at least, some community-type scheme
in this country where people could transfer to more research-intensive
universities if they pass muster in their early credits?
Professor Arthur: If we are going
to run that type of system then, clearly, we need to sort out
that set of issues, yes.