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Press cutting: Education Select Committee hears evidence from UCL

21 March 2007

The way in which arts and humanities research had changed and sensitivity should be made to disciplinary differences MPs were told today.

Giving evidence to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into higher education were: Prof Alan Gilbert, President, University of Manchester, and Prof Michael Worton, Vice-Provost, UCL.

Proceedings began when Committee Chairman, Labour MP Barry Sheerman, asked the witnesses if they had any opening statements they wanted to make. …

Prof Worton pointed out the ethical and moral purposes of university. He said that if a university was undertaking global research, it had a responsibility to try and solve global problems.

He said that at UCL graduates were expected to be ambitious, idealistic, entrepreneurial and ethical. He added that they should learn to assume leadership positions.

In response to a question from Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, Prof Worton said that there was overwhelming support for dual support.

He said that with regards to research assessment, sensitivity should be made to disciplinary differences. He said that the way in which arts and humanities research had changed, as well as the differences between groups of researchers with robust international benchmarks. …

When asked how arts and humanities could be included, Prof Worton gave an example of philosophy having an impact on risk assessment.

He went on to say that the humanities community was working hard on metrics and said that it was evidence of how communities were changing. He added that they had been excited by technology transfer. …

When asked about the potential benefits of expert peer review, Prof Worton felt that it was important that it included expert judgement as well and not just review by academics. …

Prof Worton said that there was often ignored research that was later seized upon. He thought that there was a systemic problem that access to research findings was limited.

He went on to say that access to research was improving as different modes of dissemination were introduced. He added that much of scientific research was Anglophone and international, which was different to arts and humanities research.

The witnesses were then asked their opinions on the health of higher education in the UK. …

Prof Worton said that Government had initially made a commitment to invest in research, and that that commitment should be reiterated.

In response to a question from Labour MP David Chaytor about the Research Council, Prof Worton wondered if the £197 million provided value for money.

He went on to say that he believed that it did as long as there was a sustained pattern and consolidation of awards. Some had suggested an increased burden to universities, although this might have been unfair.

He believed that universities could reduce wasted applications, but added that even applications that were turned down were still useful as they could be creative and provoke thought and debate. …

Mr Chaytor talked about the national strategy for investment. He wondered about the balance between competitiveness and research, and asked the witnesses whether they wanted to encourage centres of excellence or capacity.

Prof Worton said that they were not necessarily opposing ideas, and said that the UK needed world leading centres. He added that those centres could bring others along with them.

www.publicaffairsbriefing.co.uk, DeHavilland Information Services Plc