Universities “obsessed over their research reputation”

Universities are obsessing over their research reputation instead of concentrating on good teaching ‘to the detriment of students’, a new report has found. The Institute of Economic Affairs warns allocation of resources is being ‘distorted’ away from helping students to learn because of current funding arrangements. It says universities are focusing too much energy into producing research – leading to key staff cutting back on ‘bread-and-butter undergraduate teaching’.

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The right-leaning think tank hit out at the ‘Research Excellence Framework’, which assesses the research generated by UK universities and influences funding decisions.
It called for the scheme to be scrapped as it ‘leads universities to try to game the system in very damaging ways’. The report comes amid increasing concerns that students are not getting value-for-money after the increase in tuition fees to £9,000. Science and universities minister Jo Johnson warned earlier this month that universities must stop focussing research reputation at the cost of good teaching for students.

Today’s report says: ‘The REF uses significant resources and distorts resource allocation within the higher education sector away from teaching and towards the particular type of research encouraged by the REF. ‘Academics focus on “salami slicing” research to obtain key journal articles within the submission period, rather than longer books and reports, and has led to key staff cutting back on bread-and-butter undergraduate teaching.’
Researchers also warned universities were focussing on research reputation because they can use it for marketing purposes. However, this only succeeds in ‘promoting the vanity of a handful of staff’ and ‘misleads the public as a few research successes are presented as typical for the institution as a whole.’

Instead, Research Councils should be responsible for the allocation of research funds they suggested. Any remaining need to allocate research support to institutions, for instance for capital purposes, should rely on available metrics other than the REF. They said: ‘The current system leads far too many academics to focus on research as a substitute for teaching, to the detriment of students.’

Mr Johnson said in a speech recently that he would introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework to redress the balance.

Source:MoL 23/7/15

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