Thursday, December 20, 2007

British universities cut back on research

THE PhD - seen as a foundation for an academic career - is becoming redundant for many lecturers as they are increasingly sidelined into teaching-only roles.

The claim is made in a research paper presented to the Society for Research into Higher Education annual conference this week, which links the increased selectivity of the research assessment exercise with a rise in the number of teaching-only contracts. It warns that the RAE has put pressure on academics to publish the "right sort of papers in the right sort of journals" or to risk being "consigned to the waste-land of the research-inactive".

The paper by Stephen Court, senior research officer at the University and College Union, warns: "There is a danger that entrants into the profession will be over-qualified if staff with PhDs end up in a post that does not require research." He explains: "Academics may have started their careers conventionally, investing three or more years in a PhD, and if they find themselves in a teaching-only role that would be quite damaging."

The paper highlights rapid growth in the number of teaching-only posts, up from 12,000 to 40,000 in a decade. They now account for a quarter of all academic staff positions. The biggest teaching-only employers are found across the sector, including the research-intensive University College London, the University of East Anglia and post-92 institutions with less research activity.

Mr Court adds: "It is a part of the academic culture of the past 50 or 100 years that teaching goes hand in hand with research, and to be removed from that position must be very painful."

The paper says the proportion of academics classified as doing teaching and research that were counted as research-active for the purposes of the RAE fell from about 66 per cent in 1995-96 to 58 per cent in 2001-02, and appears to be in further decline as 2008 RAE entries were finalised last month. It says: "Often, if universities do not feel that an academic's research is up to RAE standard, those considered not research-active will be put on a teaching-only contract."

Lisa Lucas, senior lecturer in education at Bristol University, said the days when a masters was enough preparation for a career in academia were "long gone". She said: "Just because someone is not submitted to the RAE and is therefore deemed research-inactive doesn't mean they are not doing research that has a bearing on their teaching."

Arwen Raddon, a lecturer at Leicester University's Centre for Labour Market Studies, said the PhD was now a prerequisite for many academic posts regardless of the role. She argued that the view of teaching as the poor relation of research was a modern one. "The PhD was traditionally seen as an entry qualification that gave you a permit to teach," she said.

"It is only more recently that the emphasis in the academic role has shifted towards research and away from teaching. Retired academics I spoke to were actually discouraged from doing research in their early days and urged to focus on teaching because they were told this was what higher education was really about."

Dr Raddon said that some postgraduates, far from seeing teaching as a backwater, were put off by the pressure to publish early in their career. "One told me they were considering going into further education, where they would be able to teach but without the pressures of the RAE," she said. "Similarly, among early-career academics, having the emphasis taken away from teaching is not a positive experience, as this is one area they enjoy and where they feel they can 'make a difference'. "So if those in teaching-only posts feel they are overqualified, perhaps this is more a reflection of the way in which teaching now seems to be less valued in the higher education environment where the pressure to publish is everything."

William Locke, assistant director of the Open University's Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, also saw value in teachers having research training - with benefits for students and their careers. He said: "High levels of scholarship are required to teach in higher education, and a PhD is one means of training for this. "Young academics may also move on to posts that require research expertise later in their careers. Or the policy of selectivity or higher education institutions' strategies for the next RAE may change, requiring research alongside teaching responsibilities."

Ron Barnett, professor of higher education at the University of London's Institute of Education, said he could understand the frustration of those in teaching-only posts who saw themselves as potential researchers but questioned how many fell into that category.

He said a teaching-only role did not preclude scholarship, which he argued was still possible even when contracts fail to encourage it. "Many worthwhile publications are not dependent on primary empirical research: it just needs good libraries and thinking time," he said. "If teaching-only contracts allow time in the library then they allow implicitly for thinking and writing. "So an individual could develop a writing profile even though their contract did not include an obligation of that kind. "Einstein wrote several of his papers while working in a patent office, and wasn't Trollope a Post Office clerk?"


UC gets ever more racist

No chance of concentrating on the individual, I suppose

Candice Shikai doesn't like math. She took advanced math classes in elementary school only because her parents pushed her. "Other students said that because I was Asian, of course, I was going to be in the advanced class," said the UCLA senior. "But I struggled immensely in math. Now I'm a history major."

Being held up collectively as the "model minority" is a disservice to some Asian American students, say University of California administrators and student groups that pushed to change the way the UC system collects students' ethnic data. "Forty percent of UCLA fits under the Asian category, and it is presumed that we don't have any educational problems," said Shikai, who is Japanese American. "That is not true."

The UC system announced recently it will become the first public higher education institution in the state to collect data on an expanded list of Asian ethnic groups, from Tongan and Fijian to Hmong and Cambodian. UC's undergraduate applications next year will include 23 Asian American and Pacific Islander categories, nearly three times the eight currently recorded. Dividing Asian and Pacific Island students into more precisely defined ethnic groups will allow universities to monitor graduation and retention rates and tailor outreach programs to groups that need them, officials say. "We expect that the more detailed breakdown for Asian Americans will help us find out, for example, the extent of differences in university admissions and enrollment trends among Hmong, Guamanian, or other Asian students," Pamela Burnett, director of undergraduate admissions for UC Davis, said in an e-mail.

Thousands of UC students behind the "Count Me In" campaign that pushed for the new applications argued that knowing more about who is enrolled will result in a more balanced, inclusive admissions policy. "I totally support it," said Kathy Her, a vice president of the Hmong Student Union at UC Davis. Recently, in preparation for a Hmong workshop at a conference for students of color at UC Santa Cruz, she and a friend tried to find retention and drop-out rates for Hmong. "We wanted to compare our different schools," she said. But the exact numbers didn't exist. "That's because when we applied for college we had to check the 'other' Asian category," she said. "I wanted to know how many have gone to UC Davis and what has kept them here." Her wondered if a retention program called Southeast Asians Furthering Education is keeping Hmong classmates in school - and if scholarships are helpful in bringing them to the Davis campus.

Vic Ramos, principal of Rosemont High School, said having better information on which Asian ethnic groups are getting into UC will help high schools focus on students who need more preparation. "It will allow us to collect data to see how successful we are with different populations," he said.

Bill Kidder, special assistant to the vice president for student affairs for the UC Office of the President, said the information will be important for diverse areas such as the Sacramento region. Census Bureau figures from 2006 show Sacramento is home to more than 188,000 Asians - from 119 Bangladeshis to more than 39,000 Chinese and 11,692 Laotians. "The student population we have today looks different than we had 20 years ago, but our categories had changed very little over those years," said Kidder.

Ethnicity cannot be used in UC's admission process - not since the 1996 passage of Proposition 209 - but the campuses still keep track of who gets accepted. This year's class of in-state freshmen at UC is 35.5 percent white, 35.3 percent Asian American, 18.7 percent Latino and 3.6 percent African American.

Asian American students involved in the "Count Me In" campaign pointed out the significant difference between newly immigrated Asian Americans from poor countries and groups who have been in the United States for generations. Less than 10 percent of recently immigrated Hmong Americans have earned a college degree, compared - for example - with 40 percent of Japanese Americans who have at least a bachelor's degree. "We've been asking for (more detailed data) for a very, very long time," said Wendy Ho, director of Asian American studies at UC Davis. "We find that many of our communities do very well, but many are struggling. The nuances and specificities of cultures can now be made visible."

Her, the UC Davis student, estimated that there are about 400 Hmong on campus. But that is a guess. "In the application process and around campus, nobody really knows who we are," she said. "If you are tan, dark-haired and have small eyes, you are automatically assumed to be Chinese or Japanese. "I've been called Korean. But I'm Hmong. I may have some of the same facial features. But unless somebody asks me, they will never know."


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