Education: Your Views

Click to follow
As one of the signatories of the letter "Unfair to Academics" (3 September) from present and past members of staff at Queen's University, Belfast, I wish to question the thinking underlying the proposed restructuring, as expounded in Professor Malcolm Andrew's reply (10 September).

Professor Andrew explains that the stimulus to the planned staff purge was the fact that, in the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise, Queen's was placed 49th out of 102, while three "comparable" universities were placed 19th, 23rd and 25th. The indisputable financial corollary, that these institutions are now relatively better off than Queen's, implied an unhealthy and unacceptable view of universities as being locked into a sink-or-swim, antagonistic and competitive relationship.

Some university has to be in 49th position. Does it follow that university A, which is placed 1st in a RAE, is in all respects the "best" - or that university B, which is placed 102nd, is the absolute "worst"? If so, the logic of efficiency would surely dictate not only that "research inactive" staff in individual universities be discarded but that entire "research inadequate" universities be liquidated.

Professor Andrew mentions that Queen's has secured overwhelming backing from the University Senate. There is nothing remarkable about this: it is this body's responsibility to be concerned with the university's financial interests. Financial health, however, is inseparably connected with staff morale and public image: and the public, rightly or wrongly, expects of higher education, first and foremost, high-quality teaching. The ultimate culprit for the blood-letting scheduled to take place at Queen's is the Higher Education Funding Council, in so far as its policy is to reward quantity of published output disproportionately to quality of teaching. As long as this policy is maintained, and assessment of staff performance is dictated by it, Dr Bain's slogan of "balanced excellence" will have a hollow ring.

EMERITUS PROFESSOR

MARCUS WHEELER

Queen's University

Belfast

Comments