Education: Your Views

Unfair to academics

As academic staff at Queen's University of Belfast, we stand squarely behind management's recently publicised aspiration for raising the international research reputation of the university. At the same time, we are deeply concerned aboutthe mechanism which has been proposed to achieve this goal.

The majority of the pounds 25m set aside for "restructuring" has been assigned to fund a severance/early retirement scheme: a large number of academic staff have been invited to leave Queen's to be replaced by new staff. In compiling the list of targeted staff, the university focused on one criterion, namely projected activity in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise. Apparently, procedures considered germane to employment legislation drove the exercise, while respect for staff and their diverse contributions sadly was afforded less importance.

Activities which sustain the life of any university, including teaching, administrative responsibilities and external activities, were given little consideration and, consequently, many individuals who play a full and active role in the life of Queen's, and who have helped to sustain the university through difficult times over the last 25 years, have received a letter inviting them to leave.

An academic's employment contract normally makes mention not only of research but also of teaching and administration. Indeed, for those in the community it is those aspects of our work other than research which are often most visible and appreciated.

Unfortunately, by already having assessed our worth solely in terms of projected research activity, a loud and clear message has been sent out and received by staff. Over the years, many academic staff have been encouraged by management to take on additional teaching responsibilities and administrative roles. For the individuals who have shouldered these burdens now to be targeted, and thereby to have their professional reputation irrevocably damaged, appears to us to be unjust, unjustifiable and may be construed as reflecting a lack of understanding of how academic departments actually operate.

It is difficult to imagine how the hurt and damage which has been inflicted can be put right, and the impact of the policy on general morale, goodwill and trust is already palpable.

Many of the 103 co-signatories of this letter have long and distinguished associations with Queen's. Collectively, whether targeted or not, we are united in voicing our concern at the damage which this restructuring scheme has inflicted - and will inflict - on the university.

In the interests of Queen's, and the unique role it occupies within Northern Ireland, we urge those who have been charged with the management of the university's future to have the courage to reconsider these restructuring proposals before it is too late.

JOHN KREMER, reader in psychology, and 102 other lecturers and professors,

Queen's University of Belfast.

http://www.psych.qub.ac.uk

Part-time students

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has criticised the government for doing too little to assist part-time and mature students in the wake of tuition fees (The Independent, 10 August.) This important issue is not the only constraint on continuing education in universities.

The autonomy of British universities enabled them, over 100 years ago, to extend their teaching to people without the qualifications necessary to pursue a full degree course. This work was developed after 1945 as specialist extramural departments recruited staff who could identify the needs of mature and part-time students. Twenty years ago, these departments began to offer special access courses to adults without formal entry requirements who wanted to read for degrees. All this accumulated expertise is now under threat.

The innovative, locally relevant, initiatives pioneered by extramural (later renamed adult and continuing education) departments are often incompatible with the centralising policies being forced on universities. For example, the financing of access courses and other courses of general education by universities is no longer permitted. They are defined as below degree level and hence fall within the province of further education, rather than higher education, funding. Further, so-called quality control inspections and research league tables are leading universities to curtail continuing education courses and departments which do not fit bureaucratic structures.

The Government, and many universities have failed to realise that educational methods and practices appropriate for 18-year-olds are often inappropriate for mature and part-time students.

It is a pity that adult and continuing education is under threat when their experience could contribute to the necessary changes.

WILLIAM HAMPTON

Emeritus Professor, Division of Adult Continuing Education,

University of Sheffield

Summertime blues

Summer-born children definitely do lag behind those born in spring or autumn and sadly Nicole Veash (EDUCATION, 13 August) misses a couple of points in her otherwise valuable article.

The problem did not first emerge in the Sixties. It was around when I took the 11-plus in 1948 and that infamous examination is the only measurement system I have known in 36 years in education where the problem was remedied through a points differential built into raw scores.

Commercial tests have consistently recognised age on test as significant but the whole edifice of national testing and assessment has moved on mindless to it.

It was certain to emerge in our new Key Stage testing and makes assessment at seven, for example, distinctly hazardous, given all the other factors that can distort young performance. Researchers have now found the factor persists right up to A-level. The debate has barely begun. It is not a matter of starting age, nor time in school. It is to do with position in class and teacher attitude. It is a lot to do with organising by year group. It is very much to do with the well-documented persistence of early failure.

Meanwhile many of our summer and spring-born children endure a system of assessment that distorts true ability. The least we could do is build 11-plus-style weighting into raw scores.

Our whole approach to the examination business needs drastic overhaul.

MERVYN BENFORD

Managing Director

In Education

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Please include a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Fax to EDUCATION on 0171-293 2451. E-mail: educ@ independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines