phil ritchie explains...
and you get rich kids demanding cushier rooms and more socials, not better education
From Fernanda Pirie
David Willetts could not be more wrong when he attributes the success of UK universities to ‘the policy framework’ created for the allocation of research funds. Increasing competition for smaller numbers of awards means increasing the amount of time researchers waste on fruitless applications. The system of ‘full economic costing’ produces awards that include hefty overheads for the researcher’s institution, which is wonderful if you get one, but means that far fewer are available. Researchers are under huge pressure to apply for these awards, effectively to support their institutions, which results in massively intensified competition and plummeting success rates – less than 20 per cent in the case of the main awards offered in the social sciences and humanities. Countless hours of research time, not to mention the public money that funds researchers’ salaries, are wasted.
At the same time, the small grants of just a few thousand pounds that funded so much valuable work have been axed. The medieval historian who could write a book with the benefit of a few trips to the archives and some research assistance, or the anthropologist who needs a few thousand pounds to undertake fieldwork in the Himalayas, is now faced with the prospect of applying for a massively inflated, extremely competitive research council grant, or competing with colleagues for a minuscule amount of university funding – or not writing the book at all. Our universities are maintaining excellent standards despite, not because of, the current policy of inefficient, competition-based funding. Extending this policy to the funding of teaching is a mistake.
Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford