University departments closing due to lack of funding
A number of major British universities are closing important departments including chemistry, physics, architecture and music, the BBC reports. This is leading to a number of their luminaries returning honorary degrees in disgust:
Two things seem to be concentrating the minds of vice-chancellors: the prospect of variable tuition fees for undergraduates and the next round of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which determines the distribution of government funding for university research.
You might think these two would be unconnected but, increasingly it seems, universities are using research funds to subsidise teaching costs.
… The architecture, chemistry and physics departments at Cambridge, Exeter and Newcastle all fell from the top RAE rating of 5 or 5* to a 4 in the last rating round in 2001.
In the past this might not have mattered so much, as a 4 rating was still both prestigious and lucrative.
But government policy changed in 2003 when ministers made it clear they wanted to see greater focus on specialist excellence.
To drive this, the university funding body has now shifted its resources heavily in favour of 5 and 5*-rated departments at the expense of 4-rated departments.
It is a trend that is likely to continue.
I actually witnessed this when I was at university in Aberystwyth in the mid-1990s - a number of the better-known teachers at our college, particularly in the science departments, were laid off (or encouraged to leave, either way they left) because the university wanted to push up its Research “Assessment” Exercise (RAE) rating, which is based solely on the quantity of research material the department produced. The problem is that the best researchers are not always the best teachers, but teaching does not push up the RAE rating (which is simply on a 1 to 5 scale).
The truer (quality) picture is shown in another study mentioned in this report, the Citations report (based on who references your work) - and the top British university in this league is only 18th place.
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