Research council fights back

31st March 2000 at 01:00
THE Scottish Council for Research in Education has condemned the Government's decision to withdraw its grant by 2003 and said it will fight to reverse it.

The Scottish Executive has strongly defended the move, revealed in last week's TES Scotland, even suggesting it would give the council more credibility. If it goes ahead, the council will be forced to become entirely self-financing. The existing grant of pound;338,000, a third of the its total income, goes towards loss-making activities such as services to schools, a teacher research network and a website.

Following a meeting of the SCRE's board on Tuesday night, Bill Furness, the chairman, said it was essential these activities continued, particularly at a time when debate about education was more important than ever with the advent of the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Furness, a former general manager of BT in Scotland, said: "Successive governments have seen the value of this work and it is very disappointing that, at a time when education has been devolved to Scottish legislators, the current Government is seeking to terminate a relationship which has served Scottish education well for nearly 75 years."

In a statement, the Executive said: "Ministers are committed to developing a strong, independent-minded and objective research capacity and they consider this can best be achieved by encouraging the growth of a number of strong institutions rather than by giving preferential status to a single body.

"Mnisters believe that if SCRE takes advantage of this opportunity, it can become a much stronger player in the research community and demonstrably more independent."

Mr Furness said, however, that the council had "never sought an exclusive relationship in respect of Government research funding. We compete vigorously for such contracts at present."

The Executive's view of core funding has yet to extend to the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and the Scottish Council for Educational Technology, which are shortly to merge. They receive annual grants of almost pound;3 million from the Government although they are arguably more capable than the research council of earning their corn in the market-place.

A number of distinguished researchers who hold the SCRE fellowship are believed to be preparing an assault on the decision. Professor Sally Brown, deputy principal of Stirling University and a former SCRE director, was "astounded" by the way the announcement was made at such short notice and accused Ministers, of having "a rather limited notion of what research in the social sciences is about in helping people understand public services".

Ian Morris, former head of educational research at the Scottish Office, suggested that it "has never been keen on educational research and reacts badly when outsiders criticise the poor scientific methods in its surveys and league tables. Why should it support a body which may challenge its authority?"

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