Review of Teaching Funding
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's Review of Teaching Funding. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled by the General Secretary with the assistance of a number of Fellows with substantial experience in this area.
Decisions must be taken in developing the present system. However, whilst it has generally been accepted that there is a problem in the funding of clinical medicine inScotland, the approach proposed to deal with this problem has proved unacceptable to many in the sector. Many will also be cynical about a list of objectives which places quality enhancement first and then goes on to cite increased policy effectiveness as the principal test of success.
The specific questions identified in the consultation document are addressed below:
Do you have any comments on the proposals for prices by subject:
It has become clear that funding band levels need to be reviewed and there will inevitably be winners and losers in such a process. However, the effect of the changes proposed is very large on many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), even if run in over a number of years, and would impose large strains across the sector. Many of those HEIs that are apparently winners at the institutional level will also be given difficult internal problems by the proposals. For example, an institution with a large medical school may see benefits but it will be at the expense of its education and engineering faculties. While internal resource allocation need not match funding patterns exactly, if the proposed large increase to medicine is not given, one of the major stimuli for the new teaching funding methodology will be negated.
The case for raising the Unit of Resource for Clinical Medicine has been made. However, it should not be introduced in such a way as to damage higher education in other areas on national priority critical to the knowledge economy. Subjects particularly affected include engineering, business studies and education. This seems a surprising policy, particularly given that most engineering departments already face very serious financial pressures. Widespread closures of centres of excellence in important technologies could be a real possibility and the universities that focus on science and engineering seem to be heavily penalised. Similarly, while Government, through the McCrone Report, is trying to increase the number of school teachers, the proposals will make it harder for HEIs to be able to afford to train them.
With reference to the proposal details, the Society agrees with the recommendation that Pharmacy should be moved to a higher funding group. There is still concern, however, that the costs associated with fieldwork and other necessary off-campus activities are not recognised in the assignment to funding group for subjects such as geography, archaeology and anthropology.
Do you have any comments on the Council's proposal that, as Step 2 in the setting of subject prices, the volume of activity funded by the Council should be re-based to include all the 'fees-only' students currently in the system
While it may be generally agreed that this is an area that needs attention, there are alternative ways of dealing with 'fees-only' anomalies. The decision effectively to reduce the "prices" across the board to accommodate an aspect of funding that has, over several years, been entirely unsystematic should not be taken without more consideration.
Prices for Different Types of Student
Do you have any comments on the following elements of the proposals for prices by types of student?
'wider access' students. The general approach to wider access is to be welcomed. However, there are important implications. For example, should the additional costs continue through the student's academic career, including postgraduate studies? Further exploration with the sector should be undertaken in order to refine appropriate criteria for identification of students and levels of funding.
Disabled students. The general approach to the inclusion of students with disabilities is to be welcomed.
Prices for Different Levels of Study
Do you have any comments on the following proposals for prices by level of study?
that Council continues to pay prices undifferentiated by students' year of course, whether at degree or sub-degree level, or at undergraduate or postgraduate level?
With regard to the differentiation of undergraduate studies, provided that all the years of study are undertaken at a single institution, there is no particular virtue in differentiating between year of undergraduate study and the funding method. It should also be recognised that there is not always a direct correlation between year and level of study in module-based learning systems.
There is, however, an argument for subdividing undergraduate provision by level of study in that there are distinct requirements for different qualifications and also that the costs, especially in scientific and technological subjects, are very different for different levels of courses. A division into broad categories of sub-degree, 3-year degree and honours degree, with some limited latitude for HEIs, would be favoured.
that the Council transfers formula funding for postgraduate research students from the teaching to the research funding formula?
The proposal to transfer research students to the research funding formula is a logical step forward.
Prices by Mode of Learning
Do you have any comments on the following proposals for prices by mode of learning?
that a cost supplement of 10% per FTE continue to be allocated for part-time students?
The administrative costs for one FTE made up from part-time students are greater than those generated by one full-time student FTE and this should be recognised as proposed.
that - other than for the Open University, which will be considered separately - the price paid for students studying under distance learning continues to be the same as for other students?
Forms of study such as distance learning do differ from traditional methods of teaching students, and the price for distance learning will be of special importance to the University of the Highlands and Islands. The pattern of costs of distance learning using computer-based material, produced either as a video, CD or as web-based material, are significantly front-loaded, and it will be important that the proposed price structure is monitored to ensure that the initiation of courses is not inhibited.
Controlled and Priority Subjects
Do you have any comments on Council's proposals:
There is a clear need to continue to monitor students in controlled subject areas, but the need for controlled numbers, and extent of those controls, should be reviewed regularly. Monitoring should be at Funding Subject Group (FSG) level.
Relationship Between Formula and Initiative Funding
Do you have any comments on Council's proposal to cease funding for initiatives wherever funding for the same or similar activity can be appropriately included in the revised teaching funding method?
The Society agrees with this proposal.
Measuring Student Activity for Funding Purposes
Do you have any comments on the Council's proposals relating to the measurement of student activity:
The current system of measurement of student activity, in terms of full-time and part-time students in Full Time Equivalents (FTEs), is transparent, useful and well understood and, before any change is considered, the full consequences of an alternative method should be tested and shown to be robust and significantly superior to the present method.
Input Versus Output Funding
Do you have any comments on Council's proposal to continue funding on the basis of student enrolments, rather than graduate outputs?
The Society supports the current policy of funding on the basis of student enrolments, rather than graduate outputs.
Measuring 'Wider Access' and Disabled Students
Do you have any comments on the Council's proposals to:
use the UK-wide unit postcode database showing under-represented areas to measure 'wider access' students?
The use of postcodes is an uncertain measure for 'wider access' students, and in the absence of other available measures it needs to be dealt with carefully. Further exploration with the sector should be undertaken in order to refine appropriate criteria for identification of such students.
use the headcount of students in receipt of the Disabled Students' Allowance (available from the HESA return) as a proxy for the volume of disabled students attending HEIs, and as a basis for the distribution of additional funding for disabled students?
The use of the number of students in receipt of Disabled Students' Allowance is a robust measurement and therefore appropriate for this purpose.
Mechanisms for Increasing Policy Effectiveness
Do you have any comments on the Council's proposal to deploy a policy-specific range of measures as it judges necessary - as the way forward for increasing the policy effectiveness of funding of teaching?
One of the options proposed is the withdrawal of some funded activity from a particular institution, subjects, or level of study where it is beyond the control of theinstitution to achieve the policy objective, or where there has been failure to respond to other measures.
In such cases, institutions should be given clear prior warning of such action and there should be an appeal mechanism.
In responding to this inquiry the Society would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject: National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (October 1996); Raising the Standard – White Paper on Education and Skills Development in Scotland (February 1997); Comments on the Recommendations of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (September 1997); Review of Postgraduate Education (February 1999); Funding for the Future: A Consultation on the Funding of Teaching (March 1999); The Independent Committee of Inquiry into Student Finance (September 1999); and Funding for the Future: Stage 2 Consultation Paper on the Funding of Teaching (April 2000).