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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 15:00 GMT
Research threat angers universities
Will students face universities without researchers?

Higher education leaders are urging the government not to cut the numbers of universities that can carry out research.

Both Roderick Floud, president of Universities UK, and Geoffrey Copland, chair of the Coalition of Modern Universities, are warning of the dangers of creating separate teaching and research institutions.

The government is set to publish its long-delayed review of higher education - and there have been suggestions that this could include plans to concentrate research in a much smaller number of universities.

Geoffrey Copland
Geoffrey Copland warns of the serious damage of splitting research from teaching

This could see many institutions, particularly "new" universities, no longer being able to support research or to award PhDs.

Such a divide between research and teaching would be "silly and impractical", said Professor Floud, who is vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University.

"All universities are based on the interaction between teaching and research." And any attempt to divide them would be artificial and damaging, he says.

Damaging teaching

Research is integral to universities, and without it they would struggle to attract academic staff, overseas students and would be less able to serve local industries, he suggests.

The prospect of research being closed down in large numbers of new universities, is now "less likely than it was", says Professor Floud.

But he says the whole university sector wants to send a message to government that research should not become the preserve of a small number of wealthy institutions.

The universities most likely to lose research funding would be the "new", post-1992 universities.

And Geoffrey Copland, chairman of the Coalition of Modern Universities, expresses his grave concerns about the impact of taking away research from institutions.

Research is a "fundamental aspect" of higher education, he says, and without it universities would find it difficult to recruit or retain staff, which in turn would affect the quality of teaching.

Two-tier system

A divide would grow between high-status, research-based institutions and less prestigious teaching universities, he warned.

And the creation of a "top-tier of heavily-protected" research universities would do little to advance the government's plans to make higher education more egalitarian, he suggested.

Even if individual universities are not stopped from awarding PhDs and supporting research, there are concerns that funding will only be targeted at the higher-rated departments.

But Dr Copland, vice-chancellor of Westminster University, says that this would be a short-sighted approach to funding, which could stifle innovation.

There may be research that needs time to develop, he says, and funding should be able to provide an incubation period.

Using an analogy with businesses, he says that there will always be a need for well-established multinationals, but there must also be nurturing for medium and smaller-size companies that might later grow.

Reducing universities' capacity for research would damage their international standing, he says.

And he rejects "simplistic" comparisons with the United States.

Although there are often mentions of the well-funded, famous universities in the United States, he says that all too often the less prestigious state universities and community colleges are overlooked.

Student fees

Students are also seeking to make their position clear before the government's publication of the higher education review.

At the University of Oxford, the president of the students' union, Will Straw, has reasserted a commitment to "the principle of free education at the point of entry".

And the students argue that repayment schemes after graduation have disadvantages - and that an increase in taxation could "easily fund an expansion in higher education and the return of the maintenance grant".

"Thankfully it seems that up front fees have been killed off by student action. However, a graduate repayment scheme, similar to that in Australia, would leave students facing debts of over 20,000 and would penalise those in low paid jobs," says Will Straw.

"A graduate tax linked to earnings would simply punish those who graduate by making them pay income tax twice."

See also:

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