Further dual support transfer?
Chairman: Can we go back to the funding problems of the funding
councils and the research councils where you suggest that the
research councils should cover more of the indirect costs. Lord
Flowers, I think you wished to follow up on that question.
23. Well, there are a number of points which arise under
it. I was rather distressed that you gave as your third option,
definitely the lowest, but it is still there, a further transfer
from the funding councils to the research councils to pay for
increased indirect costs. For the life of me, I cannot see how
that is going to benefit the research life of the universities
because it does not involve any free money on the one hand, and
it removes such flexibilities as the universities have on the
other, so it struck me as a very bad suggestion and since the
report is such a good one, my only conclusion was that you put
it in to show the absurdity of the idea. (Sir Ron Dearing)
You notice, sir, that it was our third choice.
24. It was not your first choice, no.
(Sir Ron Dearing) Our first choice was extra funding.
25. Yes, I know, but I was very surprised to see the third
choice there at all.
(Sir Ron Dearing) I am glad you dismiss it, sir.
26. That is the first point I wanted to make, but on more
detailed points, we are concerned about many universities which
have only a few departments which are distinguished according
to the research assessment exercise, but, nevertheless, in other
departments they may, and often do, have individuals or even little
units of very considerable distinction.
(Sir Ron Dearing) Yes.
27. Now, you suggest, if I understand you properly, that
universities will be able to provide sufficient institutional
infrastructure for such people. Do you think that that is really
going to be true, especially if the dual-support system is further
robbed? (Sir Ron Dearing) Well, we agree, Lord Flowers,
that we do not wish the dual-support system to be further robbed
and the preferred course is that the extra funding should be provided.
The lone scholar can bid for funding and can be successful in
bidding for funding. We do recognise that in our work and especially
in the arts and humanities, this may well be the situation. So
I think the way we are looking at things and what is desirable
is very much the same.
28. But will the universities be able to provide for the
institutional infrastructure to support such people?
(Sir Ron Dearing) Well, we do recommend that amends
are made for the under-provision in the past at the rate of £150
million a year for the next two years to try and put that right.
29. If there is more money, I agree the problem is not so
bad, but I am trying to face up to the fact that, as you said,
you clearly think there may not be.
(Sir Ron Dearing) Lord Flowers, if one looks through
our proposals for new money, there are two in the short term that
are very substantial. One is to reduce the attenuation of the
unit of resource that affects all things and the second is research
and so we have put extra money for research very high on our agenda
in terms of large sums of money. I recognise how scarce money
is, but in terms of our priorities, in relation to the current
situation which you have identified, we gave that priority.
30. And there is still a further robbing of free funds which
you suggest, namely that institutions might be charged for access
to electronic databases, electronic journals and other such services.
(Sir Ron Dearing) But not yet, sir, we say. We do
envisage that that is going to be inescapable because of the sheer
scale of it. But I think, if I recollect our report correctly,
we say that should not take place for another two or three years,
so that people have time to plan for it, and we do indicate that
you cannot have this growth in communication and information technology
without funding. We have a chapter devoted to that.
31. I am concerned, and you will understand this point,
about the number of increased demands being placed upon the same
pot of money.
(Sir Ron Dearing) And we share that and I am glad
for your underlining of our concern, sir.
(Sir Ron Oxburgh) Chairman, the first point, I think
we all agree with Lord Flowers' concern over this, but indeed
the transfer that is suggested here or at least that is mentioned,
not suggested, would still be a fairly small fraction of the R
funds that are available, and I think around about 10 per cent
or something of that kind, to the funding councils, but I think
the answer is that one cannot give the kind of guarantees that
Lord Flowers is looking for in the future. Our proposal that research
council projects be fully funded does in fact help the lone researcher
in the otherwise not very research-distinguished institution because
that institution will get additional funding specifically to help
upgrade that person's laboratory and meet broader infrastructure
costs and in that sense the proposal to go to full overheads goes
a little way to supporting the individual researcher who is perhaps
isolated. However, on a broader front, I think we see three main
strands to our strategy. The first is inevitably selectivity.
The second is collaboration and access. In a number of places
we have emphasised how important it is that those that enjoy the
privilege of special facilities for particular projects make them
open for reasonable access to qualified people with appropriate
projects and this was certainly a pattern which we saw in North
America very strongly. It was quite usual to go to a big lab and
find people who were from relatively less prestigious institutions
working there for a month, doing analyses, working in the lab
there for a while and then returning, keeping in communication,
being an extended member of that group, using the rather effective
means of communication and networking that is now possible through
e-mail and the World-Wide Web. The third strand is access to information
and we believe that this side of research, this side of teaching
and learning is changing very rapidly at the moment and will continue
to change and lack of access to libraries and databases is something
which we hope will be a thing of the past for almost anyone involved
in research or scholarship in higher education; and this is another
big change and will change the nature of the way research is done
and the kind of projects that can be tackled. However, in spite
of all that, there will be people who are not properly supported.
Lord Craig of Radley
32. You draw attention, as we have already discussed, to
the chronic problems of infrastructure and you say that you are
convinced it ought to be possible to seek collaboration between
all the major parties, government, industry, research charities
and so on. I wonder in your studies whether you got anything on
which to base that conviction which you could share with us. In
other words, did industry, did the charities say, This is an idea
which we would be very willing or keen to support provided that
conditions are met"?
(Sir Ron Dearing) Well, I am glad to respond. Without
naming names, I did indicate to one major charity why I was coming,
but they, nevertheless, gave me an excellent meal and left me
feeling that they had listened and for a thought-through case
I thought there was a good chance they would respond. I have seen
or been in touch with seven major companies. Only one has indicated
that they would not see this as a possibility for them to consider.
None of them welcomed me, but all were extremely civil and made
it very clear in principle that they thought this was wrong, but
realised that there was a real world, that there was a real problem
and were kind enough on occasion to indicate how I might develop
my thinking in a way which might be fruitful. I left these discussions
thinking that each could see there was advantage in the leverage;
for every pound they put on the table, there was £3 from
another source. They all realised the reality of the problem and
they would see it in the same way as the Committee. Their quantification
of it was much the same. I think that if the Government were prepared
to respond on its side positively, on the basis that the others
were equally positive, there may be a basis for proceeding. I
am hoping that we shall know in October or thereabouts that there
is a basis on which someone can pick this up and pursue the early
discussions which I had with very senior people in those companies.
So I am hopeful.
33. Thank you for that. That indeed is encouraging because
it seems to me that there has to be an initiative here on the
scale that you are proposing if this problem is to be tackled.
(Sir Ron Dearing) I am convinced that we do need
it, and there is a mutuality of interest in solving it.
34. And you make the point in your report that PFI is not
a route for a great deal of this sort of thing and that is a very
important thing for you to have brought out.
(Sir Ron Dearing) No, we have not seen the PFI as
apt for solving this problem. The sums are so great that we need
a multiplicity of sources and some friendliness towards the purposes.
Can I make it clear that this is not a general fund; this is aimed
at major research centres of real international standing. There
are other proposals for a revolving fund for a wider range of
institutions and departments of lesser research standing.
35. But would you perceive some sort of institutional council
being set up to administer such a fund?
(Sir Ron Dearing) I have been very careful in speaking
to people in not trying to be specific because as soon as one
does, people begin to see the difficulties and I have been looking
to them for ideas on how to solve these problems. Yes, there would
have to be some body of trustees to manage these very considerable
sums which I see coming in over, say, two years. There would have
to be agreed priorities for making the loans and there would have
to be criteria against which they are evaluated, which I think
would include the expectation of a high rate of utilisation and
sharing of facilities, not necessarily only between institutions,
but possibly more widely. I think the issue of guarantees would
arise, whether the loan repayments were guaranteed by the individual
institution or whether there were joint and several guarantees
by the participating institutions. But the straight answer to
your question is that I have been very careful not to be too specific,
to gather ideas, but it seems to me inescapable that there would
be one body of trustees managing and accountable for the operation
of this idea.
Arts and humanities
36. You recommend, Sir Ron, the formation of an Arts and
Humanities Research Council.
(Sir Ron Dearing) Yes.
Chairman] That is not, I may say, a new idea, but one that
has previously been blocked in various ways.
Lord Porter of Luddenham
37. Yes, thank you, my Lord Chairman. We were wondering to
whom it would be married and who would look after it, so to speak.
The nearest thing to it, I suppose, has been linked in the past
to the British Academy partly who provided some of the grants
and to whom the money went. We wondered whether you were thinking
of linking it with or copying the existing science research councils
or whether you felt it was so different from the science research
councils that this was perhaps not appropriate. In any case the
science research councils are linked to the DTI, whilst I suppose
the new AHRC would be linked or have affinity with the Arts Council
and other departments of that kind.
(Sir Ron Dearing) Yes.
38. Where do you see the linkage of this from a funding
and every other point of view with the existing departments?
(Sir Ron Dearing) In Professor John Laver's report
to the Committee, he does identify a number of options. He is
in a strong position to reflect on the role of the British Academy
since he chairs their Humanities Research Board. He did consider
simply increasing the funding available to the British Academy,
but he recognised that there was some inherent conflict of role
in the institution being an independent commentator and adviser
and at the same time a distributor of government funds. That led
him to look for other solutions.
39. It would be rather like linking the science research
councils to the -
(Sir Ron Dearing) To the Royal Society.
(Sir Ron Dearing) And he explicitly thought that
was not appropriate. In reviewing the options, he came down, and
it was after a great deal of thought and heart-searching on his
part, to a view that we should broaden our thinking to include
the arts as well as the humanities and that they should have their
own council so that they have parity of standing in the research
structures, a seat at the table, and this seat at the table was
an important consideration for the other bodies. On the other
hand, we did not want to create greater administrative costs than
was necessary and, therefore, we suggested that it should be administratively
serviced by one of the existing bodies but should have its own
council. Professor Laver looked at putting it in with the ESRC
so there was a widened ESRC, but he came down against that because
he saw the probability of strong competition for the money, with
people having loyalties to their own disciplines and not readily
able to take a dispassionate view. So he came down for the independent
body but with a shared secretariat. In fact he put, if I remember
rightly, the secretariat with the body where it is already located.
But the conflict of interest issue led us to come to the view
that it would be better to distance the secretariat.
41. Would there be then any link to such bodies as the Arts
Council and the new Culture Department, which would be analogous
in some ways with the links which the research councils have with
(Sir Ron Dearing) We did not go into that. I think
that would be sensible, if I may say so, to have such links.
42. I merely wanted to say, my Lord Chairman, how very much
I have agreed with everything you have said about the new research
council. I think, and I have believed for a very long time, that
it is an essential missing feature of our research support system
and I very much hope that you win on this one. It ought to be
independent of the other research councils and even if it reports
to the same overarching organisation for pay and rations purposes,
it ought to have its own links to all the various societies in
this region and so on and so forth.
(Sir Ron Dearing) Yes.
43. But my question is, who is going to progress this? I
have a horrible feeling that the sort of arguments which have
arisen before to this suggestion, because it is not new, will
arise again, namely that the sum of money is not large enough
to support somebody of any stature running it and it would be
much better if it ran as a small division of some other body and
so on and so forth, Treasury-like arguments, if I may put it that
way, Sir Ron.
Follow-up to the report
(Sir Ron Dearing) Yes. This issue worries the Committee
for all 90-odd of its recommendations. I wrote an article to the
THES last week saying, "Who is going to be the champion of
this report?" Our Secretary, Shirley Trundle, anticipated
this problem and in the final chapter of the report, she details
off action on every recommendation against the government departments,
the funding councils, the CVCP and so on, so we have got them
in our sights. Thirdly, we decided that although we have finished
our task, we are not minded to disappear entirely, not remaining
as a government organisation or government-appointed body, but
as a community which has devoted a good deal of time passionately
to their report. We have agreed we shall meet again and again
to progress this report. That is the best we can do, I think.
We are looking anxiously for action on this report.
Lord Flowers] I am much relieved.
Teaching and scholarship
Chairman] I am afraid time is beginning to run out, Sir Ron, but
I wonder if we could spend a little time on your teaching proposals,
starting perhaps with your proposition that people working as
individuals or in small groups not in receipt of large funds should
receive £500 a year to enable them to collaborate and travel
and do the relatively small things. Lord Kirkwood, I think you
would like to ask questions on this front.
44. Yes, thank you, my Lord Chairman. Can I just add my congratulations
to the Committee. I must admit I have read the summary imperfectly
and it is going to take the rest of the summer to digest the whole
of it. I think that the concern was whether in fact this sum of
money would disappear into the maw of the university involved
or whether it would be transmitted directly to individual members
of staff, and whether a sum like that would provide any real incentive
(Sir Ron Dearing) I am going to turn to Sir Ron Oxburgh
in a minute, but if I can start, the first decision is the decision
of the department to opt out of the research assessment exercise.
I think if a vice-chancellor is going to succeed in persuading
departments to opt out, they are going to say in response, We
are opting out on condition that in sacrificing our opportunity
to win research funding, we will get this sum of money".
So I do not see departments agreeing to opt out unless they have
got an understanding with the vice-chancellor. There is a second
safeguard, one which we have built in. We say that the Quality
Assurance Agency should monitor the effectiveness and the way
in which these funds are used, because we do not just want them
to disappear. We saw a very clear purpose in these funds. I think
the idea came from your visit to the United States, Ron: the idea
that there was a distinction between corporate research and personal
research and that there was advantage in trying to encourage people
not to engage so much of their energies in pursuing a bid in the
research assessment exercises to get corporate funding and instead
to pick up what seemed to be a well-established practice in the
United States of having personal funding for high-level scholarship.
(Sir Ron Oxburgh) I think the first point is to say
that the wording, and I have had to be careful, is no less than
£500" and possibly rather more. I think the Chairman
is right. The proposal is that within universities the decision
should be made department by department whether to opt in or out
of the research assessment exercise. Going into the research assessment
exercise is an immensely time-consuming activity and for the departments
that do not have much chance of winning anything from it, it is
a serious distraction from their main job of doing teaching. So
we felt that given that their only reason for going into it was
the hope of getting a little bit of money, the sensible thing
was actually to give them some money to support them in their
prime activity and actually save their time. I believe that one
can never guarantee that money ends up where you actually want
it, but, as Sir Ron said, given that we propose that the use of
this money by universities be scrutinised and justified as part
of the teaching quality assessment process, we think that universities
will have a very strong incentive to actually put it where it
was intended and use it as intended.
45. Can I just check that my reading of this is correct?
You are talking about £500, or whatever it may be, per member
(Sir Ron Dearing) Yes.
46. Given to the department, not to the individual?
(Sir Ron Oxburgh) Correct.
47. That seems more reasonable, yes.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
48. May I, my Lord Chairman, again join my fellow peers in
congratulating you on your report. You have taken quite a lot
of evidence from the United States and compared the US system
with ours and I admire you for that and, having spent some part
of my life there, I know it reasonably well, but if you could
come to the question of teaching and university research, you
say that in a higher education system, research is believed to
be the hallmark of a proper academic. I might just change that
to say scholarship" rather than research". In the States
of course, as you may well know, there are the liberal arts colleges,
such as Haverford and Oberlin where research is not encouraged,
but teaching at a very high level with excellent scholarship is
valued and is an excellent preparation for higher education. Is
that a model that could be followed in this country and pursued
in this country?
(Sir Ron Dearing) Yes, sir. We have a view, deriving
from what I said earlier about the basis of competitiveness being
a knowledge-based industry and services, which means we have to
invest in people because they are our only assets. It follows
from this that if that is the basis of competitiveness, it should
be a clear, determined objective of national policy to be, and
I mean this not just as a nice thing to say, world class in the
business of the management of learning and teaching. Therefore,
we are in the business of trying to create a major cultural change,
so that these two activities are very highly regarded and institutions
do seek, even if they are seeing themselves as research-led, to
be outstanding in the business of learning and teaching. We do
see a continuing need to concentrate research funding on centres
of excellence and for it not to be spread around so that everybody
can engage in research. We do see further expansion in the teaching
side of universities and colleges and, therefore, in terms of
getting the best out of people, there must be another basis for
self-esteem and professional success than research or high-level
scholarship, and we want very much to be like those institutions
in the United States where teaching is admired and reputations
are made and careers based upon excellence in teaching. To that
end, we say that teaching is a profession and a high profession
and that it should have its own distinctive professionalism. Like
other professions in the United Kingdom it should have a professional
institute - for learning and teaching - and, as a normal condition
of completion of probation for new staff, they should have to
achieve associate membership of that institute, by a level of
attainment that is recognised through a national system of accreditation
of awards. We do feel that these awards must be national so that
an academic who achieves recognition at this level has something
which has standing across the whole system of higher education.
This is, as we see it, one of the major recommendations in our
(Sir Ron Oxburgh) Could I add to that, my Lord Chairman,
briefly? I think we did have a tradition of that kind in this
country and it has been one of the serious casualties of the RAE.
If one looks no further than the universities of Oxford and Cambridge
in which I have spent quite a lot of my life, there was in fact
a very strong tradition of gentleman scholars", of people
who had never done very much research in their lives, but who
devoted an immense amount of time to college teaching, looking
after their pupils. Now, that kind of person, and I am using that
caricature, that kind of person was found in the universities
all around the country and their life has been made enormously
more difficult and painful and embarrassing by the existence of
49. Thank you very much for bearing with us for slightly
longer than the time we promised we would be. We could of course
have gone on for much longer, but I am sure you will be quizzed
by many bodies throughout the country and we look forward to the
continuing debate in the autumn surrounding your report. Thank
you very much indeed.
(Sir Ron Dearing) My Lord Chairman, thank you very
much indeed to you and your colleagues for giving us a hearing.