Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Is Wales set to break research-teaching links?

On 22nd December 2010, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) issued a statement on The Future Shape of the HE Sector in Wales in which it identifies expectations to be met by March 2013 that may damage research-teaching links in undergraduate curricula across Wales.

Although the main headline of HEFCWs statement is a reduction in the number of Welsh HE institutions (down to six), so that there are no more than two institutions in each of the three Welsh regions, it also states that each "region [in Wales] should have research intensive (in which we will increasingly focus our QR funding in support of sustainable excellence and relevance to Welsh Assembly Government objectives) and strong community/widening access focused provision"; implying that each region should comprise one research intensive and one access (teaching?) focused institution.

As Chair of the Higher Education Academy Wales' Research-Teaching Nexus Action Set, I am concerned that this statement, and the explicit QR funding expectations, has the potential to weaken or even break the link between research and teaching in the undergraduate curriculum in Wales.

Since its first meeting at the University of Wales, Newport, in February 2009, the Action Set has worked actively towards enhancing existing, and forging new, links between research and teaching across Wales; holding a conference at Gregynog Hall in September 2009 and launching a book of Welsh case studies at the Higher Education Academy's Annual Conference in June 2010. At the last meeting in September 2010 at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David's, the focus was on promoting and celebrating undergraduate research, including student participation in mainstream research projects and publishing papers.

The focus of planned Action Set activity in 2011 is to influence and inform the next generation of 5-year Welsh institutional learning and teaching strategies that are required by HEFCW in the Autumn (a HEA-convened strategy briefing event will take place in the Spring), with the aim that measures to enhance research-teaching links are featured explicitly as a part of institutional quality enhancement targets. But how might the December HEFCW statement affect this?

The HEFCW statement heralds a period of uncertainty for Welsh Higher Education, particularly as institutional mergers are inevitable, which will undoubtedly have an effect of the development of learning and teaching strategies and quality enhancement initiatives. But will the statement lead to a more fundamental disconnect between research and teaching?

I am concerned, using HEFCWs language, that the research intensive institutions may, as has happened elsewhere, exclude undergraduate students from the institutional research culture - there are many examples where students are never taught by the top research professors that attracted them to the institution in the first place!

Furthermore, given the separation stated by HEFCW, access focused institutions may now see research as unecessary and, with heavy teaching loads, academics may not have time or resources to pursue research, especially as HEFCW suggest reducing QR funding for these institutions, so minimising the opportunities for research to be embedded in the curriculum and adversely affecting the quality of the student experience. Indeed, some would argue that Higher Education is not 'Higher' without research.

The next Research-Teaching Nexus Action Set meeting is to take place at Aberystwyth University on Thursday 10th February and presents a timely opportunity to discuss the issues and concerns that the HEFCW statement raises, and also other recent calls for research concentration in elite institutions. I feel the Action Set may have suddenly taken on a signficant new role in the future shaping of Higher Education in Wales, one that wont let the sector lose sight of the importance of maintaining and strengthening links between research and teaching in all Higher Education institutions in Wales.

I would urge existing Action Set members and any newcomers to attend the Aberystwyth meeting to contribute to the discussion, but would also welcome comments posted in reply to this blog entry.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Call for teaching-only institutions again!

The Times Higher Education have run an article this week calling for research to be concentrated in pre-1992 institutions. This is an arguement that was first aired around 10 years ago and most have considered it has been put to bed, so a bit disappointing for it to raised yet again.

Friday, 7 January 2011

British Conference of Undergraduate Research

Professor Stuart Hampton-Reeves presented on Undergraduate Research at the last meeting of the R-T Nexus Action Set in Carmarthen. At the meeting he promoted the first British Conference of Undergraduate Research to be held at the University of Central Lancashire on 19-20th April 2011, and posters and flyers were sent to Welsh institutions in the autumn. He was delighted at the meeting by colleagues suggesting they would look into encouraging their students to consider attending and presenting at the conference. However, the submission date passed in December and no submissions from Wales were received.

Stuart has kindly agreed to allow submissions from Welsh students until the end of January. Therefore, I would urge colleagues to encourage students to submit so that we have good representation from Wales. Details may be found at http://www.uclan.ac.uk/information/services/ldu/research/bcur.php

Next Research-Teaching Nexus Action Set Meeting

The next meeting of the RT Nexus Action Set will be 10 February 2011 at Aberystwyth University. If you have not already done so, please could you confirm your attendance by replying to Rachel.Thomas@heacademy.ac.uk as soon as possible (31 January latest).

The meeting will take place in MedRus 4 in Penbryn Hall. The programme is below.

10.15 Arrival and coffee

10.45 Presentation: “Research-teaching relationships and HE professional practice” by Professor Simon Haslett (University of Wales)

12.30 Lunch

13.15 Research-Teaching Nexus Action Set business meeting (All welcome – chaired by Simon Haslett)

14.45 Close

In the presentation, Professor Simon Haslett (University of Wales) will examine the ways in which research and teaching may be linked in academic practice in Higher Education. He will attempt to unravel the various linkages through scholarship, research (both subject-based and pedagogic), and curriculum, and outline the activity and contribution of the Higher Education Academy Research-Teaching Nexus Action Set in Wales. The presentation will draw upon his recent experience as Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the University of Wales, Newport, as a case study, and he will also provide examples of research-teaching links from his own professional practice.