A new binary divide? Social science after concentration, and how to cope…

Perri 6, Professor of Social Policy at Nottingham Trent University, has produced a detailed analysis of the implications of concentrating doctoral training at a restricted number of universities in the UK. While this may well result in a deep division in the sector between research and teaching universities, he argues that this is not inevitable, and sets out ways that universities can adapt to meet the challenges they face.

The national press largely missed the huge significance for higher education of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC’s) announcement in January that it will now support doctoral training in just twenty one centres. Some of these are made up of consortia of universities. Many universities which had high hopes of being awarded a centre were unsuccessful. Moreover, ESRC decided, after seeing the Treasury’s announcements of cuts in the Council’s funding, not to fund any smaller Doctoral Training Units at all. Those would have covered fewer disciplines and smaller numbers of students than the Centres. Typically, smaller universities not in consortia and post-1992 universities applied for those.

This decision is the harbinger of a much deeper degree of concentration that could lead to a stark, new division in the sector between research and teaching universities – at least in the social sciences, and in all probability quite generally. That, of course, would probably be the preference of the Russell Group anyway. It has implications for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), for ‘Quality Related’ (QR) research funding awarded in consequence of the REF, for the future of ESRC itself, for academics’ decisions about their careers, and for the choice of university that students make even for their undergraduate courses, let alone for their master’s courses.

Let’s start with what ESRC has done, before examining what it will definitely mean, and then considering a little more speculatively what it might mean – if we are not careful. To understand the scale of what has happened, it’s important to understand how the system has worked until this year…

 The full article is available as a pdf file.

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