UNIVERSITY OF WALES, CARDIFF
Submission to the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (1996)
SUMMARY OF RESPONSE
Maintain support for postgraduate research students.
Plan for growth in demand for post-graduate taught courses.
Retain four-year undergraduate degrees in specialised areas.
The views and needs of employers should not wholly determine what is taught.
Institutions must retain the responsibility to identify and provide effective teaching and learning.
To do so they must be resourced at a level that will allow them to embrace initiatives to encourage development of effective teaching and learning.
While institutions must make their processes and criteria more open and explicit, national standards are not appropriate; nor are national curricula or national examinations. Systems of academic audit and TQA must be made less burdensome if they are not to become counterproductive.
Academics' freedom to explore their own lines of enquiry leads to new discoveries. Funding methodologies for research must protect this independence while encouraging interaction and partnership with industry.
Concentrate research funding in departments where at least national and the potential for international excellence can be demonstrated. Streamline the research assessment exercise.
Secure a longer funding period for research in H E (currently one year). Research Councils and Funding Councils should promote inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration e.g. in the rules for the research assessment exercise.
Promote diversity through funding mechanisms.
Agree a broad framework for UK as a whole; implement at regional level.
(a)A region like South Wales needs at least one research-led internationally-orientated university as well as a full range of other H E institutions.
(b)The economic impact of an institution of higher education can be very significant.
(c)Networking (e.g. through the Cardiff University Innovation Network) brings access to the range of university services to SMEs.
A third teaching semester is inappropriate for research-led universities.
SECTION 1 The Definition and Purpose of Higher Education
SECTION 2 Teaching and Research within Higher Education.
3. What forms of higher education provision will students need access to over the next 20 years?
The UK will not be able to maintain, let alone enhance, its position among developed nations, unless the students who will become the researchers, scientists and academic leaders of the future are able to pursue doctoral studies at research-led universities. The advance of mass higher education has meant that a first degree is no longer the passport to a professional career that it once was. There are signs that the US pattern of entry to the professions at post-graduate level will spread to the UK. Therefore the Committee would be wise to plan for a growing demand for post-graduate taught courses. At undergraduate level, enhanced four-year degree schemes in some areas will undoubtedly continue to be needed:
(a) in areas where certain professional or accrediting bodies (e.g. engineers, pharmacists, perhaps optometrists) make them mandatory entry requirements, and
(b) in subjects where knowledge has developed to the point that a three-year programme is inadequate to equip the brightest students for a research career.
4. What knowledge, skills and aptitudes will those leaving higher education need over the next 20 years and how can these be best delivered?
On the question "who should shape or determine the curriculum content e.g. teachers, students, employers, professional bodies", all four have a part to play in shaping the curriculum. It would not be wise to move to a position where employers could determine what is taught, except in specialised "bespoke" provision.
5. How can effective teaching and learning be identified and how should they be encouraged?
It is a matter for institutions to identify and promote effective teaching and learning. The effectiveness of different approaches will depend on many factors, not least institutional mission, course portfolio and background. If the UK higher education system is to maintain its current levels of diversity to accommodate a wide range of students with differing backgrounds, needs and aspirations, institutions must retain this fundamental responsibility. However, that is not to say that institutions do not need help and support in providing for their own development. Nor does it imply that institutions cannot learn from one another. Cardiff has recently undertaken a review of those incentives which can encourage improvements in teaching and learning. The majority of those identified related to the provision of up to date facilities and resources, the release of time to undertake development work and institutional reward systems including prospects for personal career development. If the overall resource position of institutions is such that they can activate such incentives to only a limited degree, if at all, then the significant advances which may well be needed to accommodate a mass higher education system of the early twenty-first century can neither be achieved nor expected.
7. How can the standards of degrees and other higher education qualifications be assured and maintained?
We concur with the outline findings of the HEQC Graduate Standards Programme that the academic community must remain in control of the quality and standards of its programmes and awards and the ways in which these are safeguarded. We also recognise however that, with the recent expansion of higher education and the resultant complex and diverse system, standards should receive more formalised, systematic and focused attention. Institutions need to make more open and explicit the processes by which judgements on standards are reached and the criteria on which they are based. We feel that it is neither feasible nor desirable to have national standards as this implies a uniformity which runs contrary to the concept of a diverse higher education system. We would strenuously oppose any suggestion of national curricula or national examinations, not least because they could undermine the undoubted vitality which, despite all the pressures, is still very much in evidence in the UK system. We also concur with the view of the Graduate Standards Programme that, if greater transparency can be achieved in the ways in which institutions set standards, the need for the present levels of external scrutiny will no longer be justified, if indeed they ever were. Whilst Academic Audit and Teaching Quality Assessment may have placed issues of quality and its enhancement firmly and more explicitly on institutional agendas, the excessively burdensome demands of these activities can no longer be justified in terms of their ability to influence improvement. Indeed, they may actually divert scarce resources from those very efforts for improvement which they are seeking to foster.
9. How should research carried out in higher education institutions fit with the wider spectrum of research undertaken in the UK?
It is the responsibility of the universities to be at the leading edge of research for the United Kingdom, to pursue research, some of which is of direct economic usefulness, and that will enhance, economically, culturally and socially, the quality of life of individuals. The freedom to pursue lines of enquiry of universities' (or more precisely the individual university staff member's) choosing must be protected, but must also be exercised responsibly. From such freedom will come the ground-breaking discoveries that will place the UK at the forefront of international learning. The university sector has established a breadth and depth of partnerships with industry and private sector companies. The research income generated is significant and, for both sides of such partnerships, the benefits that flow have already been recognised. It is important, however, that the universities are able to enter into such relationships as equal partners, able to comment independently and produce results that question accepted thinking. Funding methodologies for research in UK universities must therefore be constructed to ensure that such independence is protected while at the same time encouraging interaction and partnership.
10. How should public funding for research in higher education institutions be distributed?
While there are limited resources available to fund research it is essential that such resources are directed to areas where excellence exists or where the potential for excellence has been identified. It must be the responsibility of those distributing public research funding to exercise selectivity and to reward excellence wherever it is found to exist. It is not our belief that research moneys must necessarily be concentrated in very few institutions, but we do believe that it may be better concentrated in fewer departments and available only to those that are demonstrating at least national excellence and have the potential for achieving international excellence. In order to be able to recognise excellence some form of assessment will be necessary. The Research Assessment Exercise processes have been refined but now need examination to reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork. We believe that a more stream-lined and less costly exercise could well serve the Funding Councils and institutions better.
11. How should the organisation of research activity be developed over the next twenty years?
The effective planning and managing of long-term research is only achievable with an accompanying long-term and secure funding base. The current public funding methodology which gives no security beyond a one-year horizon, and is then subject to the political pressures of each public expenditure survey and budget settlement, provides no such security. A longer funding period for research in Higher Education must be secured. The responsibility for encouraging interdisciplinarity between departments must lie with the universities themselves. It is also incumbent upon those funding research to ensure that their methodologies and assessment procedures do not act against inter-departmental and inter-institutional collaboration. In the past, both the Funding Councils and Research Councils have displayed some reluctance to deal imaginatively with such collaborations in their assessment and funding processes. For example, we should like to see the rules for any future Research Assessment Exercise adjusted:
(a) to recognise inter-institutional collaboration;
(b) to allow joint institutional submissions; or to allow staff of one institution to be returned as primary researchers with a unit at another institution; and
(d) for the institutions involved to negotiate between them the consequent funding outcomes of such approaches.
SECTION 3 The Size, Shape and Structure of Higher Education
18. How diverse should the higher education sector be across institutions over the next twenty years?
Diversity across the sector as a whole and across regions is healthy, and widens student choice. The Committee is urged to recognise that the current system of funding for teaching and the financial incentives within it promote convergence, not diversity.
21. How should the shape and structure of the higher education sector be determined?
On the question of "the desirability and the effects of having a nationally or regionally planned system", our preference is for a system where the broad framework is agreed for the UK as a whole, but implemented at regional level. Cardiff has found it easy to form a close and positive relationship with a Funding Council that is responsible for no more than 15 institutions and welcomes the mutual understanding that it has developed with HEFCW officers.
SECTION 4 The Wider Contribution of Higher Education to National Life
23. What local and regional role should higher education institutions have over the next twenty years?
(a) Whether all higher education institutions should have the same role or whether some should have international, some national and some local roles. Diversity within regions is essential. It is vital, for example, that South Wales contains at least one research-led internationally-orientated university. There are two main reasons: The availability of such a university is critical in attracting the inward investors who will provide the high value-added jobs that will turn the economy from a "screwdriver" basis to a "high-tech" model (cf. the successes in Boston and in the San Francisco Bay area). Investors such as L G Semicon Co. Ltd, now moving into South Wales, look for a strong research base and a ready supply of research-trained graduates and postgraduates. Research-led universities work on the problems that industry does not yet know it will need to solve, and provide the staff who are trained to solve those problems. It is also essential that the South Wales area contains institutions able to deliver a range of HE experience to students of various abilities across a range of disciplines. Such a requirement points to the need for regional collaboration and planning in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of activity and ensure the proper application of resources. Welsh HE is disadvantaged from full participation in schemes such as the Faraday Partnerships and Post-Graduate Training Partnerships because of the shortage of RTOs (Research & Technology Organisations): these are mainly concentrated in the south east of England.
(b) On the question of the economic and social impact of higher education institutions on localities and regions. The economic impact of an IHE on its locality and region can be very significant. A recent study at Cardiff showed that in 1994-95 annual expenditure by the University and its students amounted to more than £135 million. The University purchased goods and services valued at £36 million, of which almost 40 per cent represented purchases from local businesses. The total salaries of its 2,600 staff (net of tax, pensions and NHI contributions) produced a local disposable income of more than £55 million. More than 98 per cent of staff live in the region. The universities also support the economic growth of their regions by supplying the trained professionals that are needed (lawyers, architects, business people), providing updating for such professions and supplying graduates for recruitment into newly developing fields - examples from the S E Wales region are media and the arts.
(c) On the question of how higher education institutions should relate to small and medium-sized enterprises. It is very difficult for a university to develop links on a one-to-one basis with the wide range of small and medium-sized enterprises that exist in a region. Initiatives such as the Cardiff University Innovation Network (CUIN) can, however, "wholesale" a university's services to a diverse range of SMEs. Knowledge about the range of expertise and specialised equipment and facilities available both in the university itself and in the wider academic community beyond the local institution can thus be accessed. This knowledge is then further disseminated through the industry/academic and company/company links that result from such networks.
SECTION 5 Funding issues
27What further measures may be available to increase the cost-effectiveness of institutions ofhigher education without reducing the quality of teaching and research?
(c) On the question of the organisation of the academic year. To maintain the quality of research it is essential for the academic staff to have time to do it. For this reason, research-led universities cannot be expected to introduce a "third teaching semester" and must be free to organise the pattern of their teaching and learning programmes in the interests both of their students and of the efficient running of the institution.