Three-D Issue 31: Chair’s report

It’s been about five months since my last Three-D contribution and, as ever, there’s much to report and even more to plan for.

As usual we have contributed to HE consultations. In September 2018 we responded to the Developing AHRC’s Strategic Delivery Plan. We highlighted, among many issues, the requirement that it be an inclusive funder that should actively encourage research in disciplines and institutions that may not historically have benefitted from Research Council funding. In October 2018, in response to the HEFCE REF Consultation, we reiterated our concerns that the REF’s organisation (in terms of its finer detail on outputs) reinforces HEIs’ tendency towards developing narrowly cast appointment and performance management systems for individual researchers. The long-term consequence of this strategy is the damaging effects on the morale and careers of researchers. We also addressed the representation of our field and the composition of REF Panels, stressing that the diversity of the research community, across the full range of relevant fields, should be reflected in the sub-panel membership. You will find the key points from these consultations on the MeCCSA website.

Policy Watch Issues

On the 22nd October 2018 the Department for Education and the Office for Students (OfS) published documents on the development of a ‘robust’ subject-level Teaching Excellence Framework. For the next year, starting this autumn, the established TEF process and the second subject-level TEF pilot will run in parallel. After the subject-level pilot programme is complete, TEF will then move to become a larger exercise that produces both provider and subject ratings. As an Association whose members deliver liberal arts and interdisciplinary degree courses we will need to be alert to the hazards of being subjected to an evaluation focused on providing information about quality in individual disciplines. If students are counted pro rata in the subject-level metrics against each subject this may mean some applicants will need to look at two or more subject-level TEF awards to try to anticipate the ‘experience’ they can expect on an interdisciplinary/combined course. This may be off-putting, to say the least, and push applicants towards conventional single subject programmes of study. We will continue to keep an eye on developments in this area.

Also noteworthy are the leaks from the Augar Review which suggest that we could be entering a new era of market turbulence. The Review, devoted to ‘driving up quality, increasing choice and ensuring value for money are at the heart of…post-18 education’ is reportedly exploring the option of a new split funding model which radically cuts fees for non-STEM courses. Small arts and post-1992 HEIs would be most heavily impacted.

Finally, another topic which has been rolling on is the series of disputes about free speech on campuses. Alongside these, there is a growing public narrative that freedom of speech is being suppressed in the HE sector and this narrative itself can be damaging. The OfS’s paper, published on 26th September 2018, entitled The Promotion and Protection of Free Speech addresses this explicitly. As an Association whose members’ professional practice, research, publications and syllabuses often engage with difficult and controversial topics this is a debate we follow with interest.

Meanwhile, in the MeCCSA community we continue to enjoy a vigorous and open-minded exchange of ideas at every opportunity including, of course, at the MeCCSA Annual Conference. We extend our gratitude to the 2019 conference organising team at the University of Stirling and we look forward to seeing you there in January!

I’ll end by thanking MeCCSA administrator Sandra Harris for her years of service supporting the work of the Treasurer and organising our membership subscriptions. We are also welcoming her successor Gillian Mason. Department MeCCSA Reps: please do remember to renew your institutional membership. Gillian will be sure to remind you!

Posted by Einar Thorsen