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Heads of Department Forum

Date(s) Tuesday 18 February 2003
Venue London
Organised by Escalate

Seventy-five Heads of Department or senior delegates attended this event. The purpose was to discuss and consequent funding arrangements and emergent issues from the White Paper.

The event arose because of discussions held at our contacts conference in 2002, after which Professor Stephen McNair, University of Surrey, suggested setting up a one-day conference to discuss the interfaces between research and teaching in the light of the recent RAE results.Subsequently of course, the White paper also threw new light - or not - on such a debate.

The programme consisted of a number of keynote speakers, interspersed with case studies and small group discussion.

Opening keynote

After a welcome by Professor Rosemary Deem, Director of ESCalate, Professor McNair opened the Forum by outlining what he sees as the dilemmas of a Head of Education Department in today's climate.

He began by describing his own Department at Surrey, and some of the challenges faced by this graduate school. In a very honest account he named some of the key dilemmas he faces. Centrally he has to ensure that there is, as far as is possible, equity for all staff, whether research active in the RAE sense or not. This includes ensuring that there are equitable promotion criteria, and managing workloads. Consideration of these issues raises the question of what is an 'active researcher' a theme picked up by subsequent speakers during the day. He also raised an issue that was also to re-emerge, that of maintaining contact with practice of both research and teaching. He left us with some interesting questions to thread into the day's discussions:

Should we concentrate or disperse research and researchers? Should research and teaching be separated or integrated? How can we pay for scholarship development, the building and maintenance of networks and relationships and intelligence gathering? And, finally, what will be the impact of the White Paper?

Three Case Studies

Dr Bridget Durning from the FDTL Project 'Link' talked about research into the links between research and teaching that she had been involved in the Built Environment. They have reached a number of conclusions. The link between teaching and research is not automatic. Research by others has suggested that students benefit from teaching in a research rich environment, but the link between teaching and research has to be managed and for this to happen strategies are needed at three levels, institutional, departmental and curriculum.

However, we also realised that the nature of the link is shaped by the discipline. Vocational and professional areas like the built environment are more like to be research-based rather than research-led. Other disciplines need to understand the nature of the link in their disciplines.

Professor Peter Newby's presentation demonstrated how a department can nurture research based on a strong teaching programme: picking up on Bridget's theme, this seemed to be research based on teaching.

Martin Hughes described the department he heads at Bristol, which achieved a 5* in the RAE. He shared with delegates some of the tensions that face the head of a research intensive department, which include maintaining a culture which is research and learning and teaching focussed, and which does not privilege or disadvantage particular groups of staff. One way of being inclusive is achieved through the creation of a number of research centres under the umbrella philosophy of Culture and Learning in Organizations. All academic staff belong to at least one Centre, and the function of these is to encourage intellectual debate, research and discussion. There is no one to one correspondence between research centres and teaching programmes. Some centres are clearly related to areas of teaching, e.g. CREOLE, the Centre for Research into English and Other Languages in Education, which is closely linked to TESOL and the modern languages PGCE staff. Others are linked more closely to groups of staff with particular research expertise.