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The downgrading of university human­ities teaching in the name of research has been exacerbated by another factor. Histor­ically, funding for scientific research has been given to the universities under a “dual support” system. The “QR” stream from the Funding Council supports the basic infrastructure, while the Research Councils (“RCUK” — not to be confused with the clothing brand “FCUK”) run competitive schemes for particular projects. When scientists tell you that they have to spend an inordinate amount of time writing grant applications, they are referring to Research Council grants, as well as comparable competitions run with a great deal less bureaucratic blather by the great educational charities such as the Leverhulme and Wellcome Trusts. After a long campaign, an Arts and Humanities Research Council (“AHRC”) was established in 2005. It has about £100m per year at its disposal, a tiny proportion of the £2.8bn overall funding provided by RCUK, within which the Medical Research Council is, quite properly, by far the most generously served. The opportunity to bring their universities some part of the new AHRC money is another incentive for hum­anities academics to concentrate more on their research than on their teaching.

With Gordon Brown’s restructuring of government departments, higher education is now under the control of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (“DIUS”). We no longer have a Department for Education in this country. The idea of a university as “a place of teaching universal knowledge” — Cardinal Newman’s phrase — has, it seems, no relevance in Brown’s Britain. Higher education must now justify itself in terms of the “innovation and skills agenda”. Crudely put, academic research must pay its way by generating real returns in the wider economy. The Research Councils’ big new idea, driven by DIUS, is “knowledge transfer”. This is defined as “improving exploitation of the research base to meet national economic and public service objectives” to be achieved by means of “people and knowledge flow” together with “commercialisation, including Intellectual Property exploitation and entrepreneurial activities”.

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Joseph Andrews
June 14th, 2008
10:06 AM
Anonymous wonders why Bate wrote this article - it's pretty clear that he did so because he thinks that higher education is mired in bureaucracy and that the idea of assessment by citation is index is barmy and that by saying this in a new journal linked to a think-tank with strong Tory connections, he might get the Tories thinking about a less interventionist approach.

Anonymous
June 13th, 2008
5:06 PM
Mr Bartram indicates that he is a pedant - ignoring the big issues raised by the author at the expense of a small point. Mr Briggs is entirely wrong - modern economies depend on education at tertiary level as the US case proves. They educate more students and spend a far greater % GDP per capita on each. Their research is in larger volume and at least equal in quantity. An excellent article, we need to open higher education to the market and bring in far more money.

William Briggs
June 11th, 2008
11:06 AM
The main problem is that there are too many universities and too many kids going to universities. Kids go to "get a degree", i.e., to add a notch to their resumes and seemingly make themselves more attractive to employers. Who goes to university to learn anymore? Instead of so many universities, there should be in their place technical or trade schools, where kids can go to learn a useful skill, so that they can really learn how to make an efficient sales call or market a "brand", or whatever else is deemed useful by businesses. This would save universities for those who want to really learn. It would reduce the amount of unnecessary "research" pumped out, too. Never happen, of course. Parents want the "brand" of the better school on their kids' resumes.

John Kidd
June 9th, 2008
6:06 AM
An apt and lucid commentary on regrettable trends in modern universities.As a now retired teacher at a leading Australian university I can confirm that the the same corrupted bureaucratic foolishness has now spread far beyond the United Kingdom. While recognising the difficulties inherent in external assessment of the quality of an academic's work, and conceding the necessity of public accountability for that work,the article highlights that the now prevailing bean-counting risks damage to the core function of a university which must remain the fostering of the highest possible standards of scholarship, research and teaching. In that sense a university, in order to justify that name, must be an elite institution of learning.

John Kidd
June 9th, 2008
6:06 AM
An apt and lucid commentary on regrettable trends in modern universities.As a now retired teacher at a leading Australian university I can confirm that the the same corrupted bureaucratic foolishness has now spread far beyond the United Kingdom. While recognising the difficulties inherent in external assessment of the quality of an academic's work, and conceding the necessity of public accountability for that work,the article highlights that the now prevailing bean-counting risks damage to the core function of a university which must remain the fostering of the highest possible standards of scholarship, research and teaching. In that sense a university, in order to justify that name, must be an elite institution of learning.

David Bartram
June 8th, 2008
2:06 PM
It's a good thing Jonathan Bate writes more here about the humanities than about the sciences - a weak grasp of basic arithmetic might be more consequential in the latter. Five million is not, after all, one percent of five billion. The smaller (correct) percentage hardly makes the RAE a bargain - but it does at the very least raise questions about the fact-checking skills of the editors of this new magazine.

Anonymous
June 8th, 2008
1:06 PM
Speaking of the Rae-driven system which Bate so much deplores: it is not clear why he imagines that the `incestuous citation game` hasn`t been in place already for some time; as well as the (to address Haldane`s example) `incestuous non-citation game`. It`s also not clear why Bate wrote this article. Presumably he did not write it to score on `metrics`.

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