It's numbers which count, not ratings

17th April 2009 at 01:00
Mixed fortunes for educational research in funding allocations

Never mind the quality, feel the width - that is the lesson Stirling University's institute of education has had to learn following the announcement of funding allocations based on universities' performance in the all-important research assessment exercise.

Stirling's education department had the highest rating for the quality of its educational research, the only one from Scotland to be ranked in the top 20 of the Times Higher Education's research quality table. But because its volume had dropped by 11.7 per cent, it has suffered a cut of 10 per cent of its funding for research.

The biggest gainers are Edinburgh University (up by 30.6 per cent from the last RAE in 2001) and Glasgow University (69 per cent) albeit from a low base.

Strathclyde University has suffered a 27.2 per cent drop in its funding - a cut from Pounds 834,000 to Pounds 607,000. Where before it commanded 27 per cent of Scottish educational research funding, it now receives 16 per cent.

The Stirling institute's director, Richard Edwards, estimated his department has lost around Pounds 50,000 in funding. Its share of the research funding pot has dropped from 17 per cent to 12 per cent, because it submitted a smaller volume of research in 2008 than in the previous round in 2001.

"We have been told for years that the quality of educational research is an issue, and we have focused on trying to address that in terms of improving it - yet, at the end of the day, numbers count," Professor Edwards said.

"We are in a period of substantial change in education in Scotland in what is going to be a far more difficult context than ever envisaged. There is going to be an increased need for research and evaluation and knowledge exchange to help provide an evidence base to support A Curriculum for Excellence."

Jim Conroy, dean of education at Glasgow University, has seen his research budget almost double, from Pounds 420,000 to Pounds 793,000. He intends to use the money to invest in STEM-Ed research (science, technology, engineering and maths), leadership and management, early education, and creating six knowledge transfer divisions.

A spokesperson for Strathclyde University said it was not possible to compare the allocations it received in 2001 and 2008. "This is because the education submissions contained different elements and the methodology used for the results of the two research exercises also differed considerably," he said.

He also pointed out that the 2008 research submission actually related to the previous year. Since then, the new dean of education, Jill Bourne, has given the Strathclyde faculty a stronger emphasis on research, focusing on the development of professional practice, well-being and equitysocial justice. "As a result, a crop of new, young researchers is coming to Strathclyde," the spokesperson said.

The overall funding pot for educational research increased from Pounds 3 million in 2008-09 to Pounds 3.7 million this year. But Professor Edwards said that even those institutions where educational research funding had been increased would struggle if they had received 3 per cent or less, because of inflation.

- The Scottish Centre in Language Teaching has moved from Stirling to Strathclyde University, following the appointment of its director, Joanna McPake, to the Glasgow-based university. Given the funding environment at Stirling University, there were insufficient funds to attract someone of Ms McPake's expertise to Stirling, said Professor Edwards. It was in SCILT's best interests to transfer, he added.

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