IN January 2003 the British government released a long-awaited White Paper setting out its vision and policies for Higher Education. That is taken as a starting point for this chapter because the White Paper grew out of debates and reviews that had been conducted over several years. I shall therefore be reflecting on what might be seen as the culminating document of that process and shall be mostly concerned with research and the role that it has in Liverpool Hope, a relatively small institution new to research. By using this specific example, my intention is to flag how such institutions in general might be affected by these discussions and proposals.
As this is a rather personal perspective, it is important – even at the risk of seeming egocentric – to indicate where I am ‘coming from’. Before joining the staff at Liverpool Hope I had held chairs in two ‘old’ universities. I had also held a chair at the new University of Derby, which enlightened me about the contrast between new and old. In the national perspective, I was a member of the last two Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) panels in my subject; cochaired the benchmarking panel for this subject with regard to undergraduate degrees; served as president of the national body for theology and religious studies (TRS); and served on the research panels of the British Academy, of the Arts and Humanities Research Board and of three learned societies. Clearly my concern is with the role of research in a variety of contexts, even though I have always enjoyed teaching.
The White Paper addresses a number of issues that have long been neglected. Up to now, research has been funded according to external review through the RAEs. Teaching was also assessed by external review, through Teaching Quality Assessments (TQAs), but, in contrast with research, this assessment triggered neither financial reward nor penalty. This clearly was unjust and prompted some universities to prioritise research at the cost of teaching. Inevitably many undergraduates suffered. The evidence is anecdotal, but compelling. Several colleagues in different ‘old’ universities showed me circulars from their vice-chancellors instructing them to end small-scale seminars so that they could spend more time on their research. The White Paper rightly insists that excellence in teaching should be recognised by funding rewards and the spread of best practice.