Teaching at new universities fails to make the grade

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Students receive a much higher standard of teaching in traditional universities than they do in the former polytechnics, according to an official report leaked to the Independent.

The revelation has brought calls for more money from the new universities, which say they cannot compete because they do not receive as much research funding as the older institutions.

Eight out of ten departments graded "excellent" under an inspection system introduced in 1993 were in old universities, the report says, and only two out of ten were in former polytechnics.

Subjects popular in the new universities were also less likely to do well. Only 10 per cent of computer science departments were rated "excellent," compared with almost 80 per cent of anthropology departments. Nationally, more than a quarter of departments were found to be excellent, but fewer than one-fifth reached that level in engineering, science and technology subjects.

The report analyses almost 1,000 assessments in 15 different subjects carried out between February 1993 and March 1995. It will be published next month in the annual report of the quality division of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which oversees the peer reviews of university teaching quality.

Of a total of 976 departments assessed, three-quarters were satisfactory. Almost 80 gave cause for concern before the inspection visit, but only 12 received an "unsatisfactory" rating, just one of which was in an old university. In chemistry, computer science and history, only one department in the entire former polytechnic sector was found to be excellent.

Although the report says there is no proven connection between the results of these assessments and the funding, research achievements or size of a department, it does point to some strong links.

Only 6 per cent of departments that scored one on a five-point research status scale were graded excellent for teaching, suggesting that the new universities' claims to concentrate on good teaching rather than academic advances might be ill-founded. Six out of ten excellent gradings were found in the largest 40 per cent of departments.

Last night, new universities agreed that good teaching must be backed by good research, and they called for extra funding to help them improve their performance.

Professor Mike Brown, pro vice chancellor of De Montfort University, the former Leicester Polytechnic, said only one out of ten departments assessed there had gained an excellent rating.

"I don't think we can cry 'foul'. It is certainly true that the traditional universities have been resourced far better than the polytechnics and it will take many years to equalise," he said.

Education, Section Two