No. 5 in a series of guest posts by G. R. Evans
One of the most significant regulatory changes introduced by the Bill is the decisive separation of research done by a research-active higher education provider in England from its ‘educational’ or teaching work. This has now been reinforced by the decision to move teaching into the Department for Education. Matters affecting the research activities of those providers involved in research (a proportion of the publicly-funded universities) are to remain in a revised Department for Business, the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Jo Johnson as Minister of State for Universities and Science will hold his post jointly in the two Departments.
So teaching will be under the control of the Office for Students (OfS) which will also have the power to register or de-register a provider, to grant or remove degree-awarding powers and to grant or remove the right to use ‘university title’. The OfS will be overseen by the Department of Education (DfE).
Research funding will come under the control of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), overseen by the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The Higher Education and Research Bill ss.83-103 will set up a UK Research and Innovation body incorporating the Research Councils currently responsible for project funding. The infrastructure element remaining as block grant direct public funding, will be distributed through a new body ‘Research England’. This will take over the part of the infrastructure function of HEFCE which currently funds research, but it will no longer be a separate entity. It will disburse infrastructure funding within UKRI.
How the Bill proposes to organise infrastructure funding for research within UKRI
Higher Education and Research Bill s. 89 (3) states that Research England will provide ‘financial support’ to the governing body of an ‘eligible higher education provider’. This seems to be intended to fund both academic and support staff salaries and facilities such as libraries and laboratories:
in respect of expenditure incurred, or to be incurred, by the provider for the purposes of either or both of the following:
(a) the undertaking of research by the provider;
(b) the provision of facilities, or the carrying out of other activities, by the
provider which its governing body considers it is necessary or desirable
to provide or carry out for the purposes of, or in connection with, research.
What is an ‘eligible higher education provider’?
The Bill defines an ‘eligible higher education provider’ in s.37 (2) and (3) but only in connection with funding to be provided by OfS and for ‘education’. In s. 89(5) ‘“Eligible higher education provider” has the same meaning as in section 37’, but there it is restricted to eligibility for teaching funding. This seems incoherent and in need of review.
Research funding provision and the emergence of ‘teaching-only’ degree-awarding powers
Two major changes have paved the way for the decision to separate the two traditional tasks of a university, teaching and research. The first has been the consequence of the removal of the bulk of direct public funding for teaching and its replacement by tuition fees and the loss of regulatory control which became apparent when it was realised that student loan funding did not count as direct public funding.
The other is a consequence of an earlier change. The requirement that an applicant for university title in England and Wales must have both research and teaching degree-awarding powers was removed in 2004. All the England-based alternative providers except the University of Buckingham which gained its Royal Charter in 1983, long before this change, are ‘teaching-only’. This may have encouraged the emphasis displayed in the present England-only Bill on ‘teaching-only’ (and primarily undergraduate teaching) aspects of the work of a higher education provider.
How will infrastructure funding for dual-purposes teaching-and-research universities be protected?
The only provision for the continuation of joined-up funding arrangements to allow public infrastructure funding to be used at the discretion of the recipient institution for such dual teaching-and-research purposes appears to be the provision in s.103 for ‘cooperation’ and disclosure of ‘information’ between the Office for Students and UKRI for the purpose of the exercise of their respective functions.
Lord Rees of Ludlow expressed alarm in the House of Lords Debate on the Queen’s Speech: ‘the White Paper proposes a major one-off reorganisation of research funding. There are widely-voiced anxieties that the changes are needlessly drastic.’
They have become more drastic since the reorganisation of Departments of State which followed the Referendum of June 23. Now research will be overseen within the reconfigured BIS, which becomes the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with a very mixed remit including ‘science’ and ‘innovation’. Only the teaching work and possibly only the undergraduate teaching work of higher education providers move to the DfE.
How will a symbiosis of teaching and research continue to be fostered?
In the 19 July debate Gordon Marsden noted a concern expressed by the former Standing Conference of Principals GuildHE, that the ‘separation of regulation and funding between teaching at OFS and research at the new UKRI body’, ‘risks undermining some of the positive interaction between teaching and research’.
This funding and Government supervisory separation has many aspects of importance to undergraduate students but is especially problematic for research students. It is not clear where responsibility for research students will lie, or for taught Master’s degree students preparing to become research students. Gordon Marsden noted this problem as a ‘huge omission’ that there is not any requirement for UK Research and Innovation to provide for postgraduate research education and training’. ‘That was previously regarded, and rightly so, as being so important that the research councils had it written into their royal charters, so why is it not in this Bill? It certainly should be.’
Infrastructure and project funding: how is the duality to continue?
The White Paper and the Bill include assurances that the existing infrastructure-and-project-funding duality will continue. But once more is not clear how the change will affect the devolved administrations. Gordon Marsden argues that:
to deliver this dual support, there will need to be smooth interaction with the devolved Administrations, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland. However, the Royal Society and others, and indeed the director of the University of Scotland, Alasdair Smith, are very concerned about how this will operate.
The Public Bills Committee has requested submissions on the Bill, which can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Points to raise:
- The proposed separation of both funding and control is likely to create considerable practical administrative difficulties for research-intensive universities and to add to their administrative costs.
- The separation of teaching and research seems likely to discourage providers with only taught degree-awarding powers from expanding into research activity, thus denying their students the contact with the exploration of the boundaries of knowledge traditionally a distinctive feature of a degree course in the UK.