Disturbing restriction on UK government funding

Chris Bertram writes:

Unless ministers grant specific exceptions then, government grants to bodies like the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research to conduct research into policy, must not aim to “influence legislative or regulatory action”. The same would go for university-based researchers in receipt of government money vie HEFCE or the Research Councils. Still more absurd than this is the picture that emerges when the clause is combined with the government’s own “Impact Agenda” which forms part of its “Research Excellence Framework”. Under this, university researchers who apply for grants are required to demonstrate “impact” which may include influencing government policy, but it will now be a contractual condition that you may not do this thing that you must do.

Open letter to Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

Read the full account of what happened with links to further photos here.

Androcentric error in education plans

Feminists epistemologists have often remarked on errors due to androcentrism– the tendency to mistakenly take the male as the norm. It seems a bit of this went into the calculations convincing the UK government that their education plans would save money:

12. Some of the output from the model used to estimate the RAB looks optimistic. For example, the average male graduate earning is assumed to increase to £99,500 pa (in real terms, at 2016 prices) by the end of the repayment period. Looking into how the estimates were made, we have been able to make some suggestions as to why they are high. For example the model assumes equal numbers of male and female graduates; the reality is that there are many more female graduates than male, and on average females earn less.

From the executive summary posted here.

Import of the Browne recommendations

Essentially, Browne is contending that we should no longer think of higher education as the provision of a public good, articulated through educational judgment and largely financed by public funds (in recent years supplemented by a relatively small fee element). Instead, we should think of it as a lightly regulated market in which consumer demand, in the form of student choice, is sovereign in determining what is offered by service providers (i.e. universities). The single most radical recommendation in the report, by quite a long way, is the almost complete withdrawal of the present annual block grant that government makes to universities to underwrite their teaching, currently around £3.9 billion. This is more than simply a ‘cut’, even a draconian one: it signals a redefinition of higher education and the retreat of the state from financial responsibility for it.

For more, go here.

Funding scenarios in the UK

According to Nature, July 22, 2010, the British government says it is considering three scenarios for agencies that fund science:  no increase (& an effective 10% reduction from inflation); a 10% drop in funding; a 20% drop in funding.  This is over the next 4 or 5 years, I believe.

The Royal Society, eschewing the “let’s all be constructive” reactions of some, has said flatly that the larger reduction will mean the end of science in England.  Anyone who can will leave; grad students won’t be trained, etc.

And, of course, while not want to be too self-centered about things, this does make one wonder about the fate of philosophy.

The other side: addition

There’s a new book out called Tech Transfer, written by “Daniel S. Greenberg, … a leading science journalist with a deep knowledge of the academic world and science policy. He edited the news section of Science magazine for many years and then a newsletter, Science and Government Report.”  He regarded himself as reporting on a lot of waste and fraud.  O dear.

Well we don’t want to be tarred with that brush.  Further, there is no way I’m going to take on the topic of waste and fraud here today!  So I’m just going to give you some of the summary in the NY Times and then see if I can get the book on Kindle.

The best scene in this hilarious first novel is a meeting of the trustees of Kershaw University, an elite research university only 200 years younger than Harvard. The trustees have to select a new president. They listen with mounting dismay as the professional headhunter in charge of the search reads out the polished résumés of each candidate, but notes in each case the fatal flaws revealed by background checks, ranging from spousal abuse to bestiality and, even more fatal, plagiarism…..

As the trustees hasten to leave for the airport, they agree on a nonentity, Mark Winner, an economics professor with a thin résumé and a clean rap sheet.

… When Dr. Winner assumes the presidency of Kershaw University, he learns the folly of challenging the tenured faculty on any of their sacrosanct, non-negotiable issues:

“These included annual pay increases, lax to near-non-existent conflict-of-interest and conflict-of-commitment regulations, and ample pools of powerless grad students, postdocs and adjuncts to minimize professorial workloads. As a safety net, the faculty favored disciplinary procedures that virtually assured acquittal of members accused of abusing subordinates, seducing students, committing plagiarism, fabricating data, or violating the one-day-a-week limit on money-making outside dealings.”

Addition:  I strongly recommend against buying the kindle version, which I unfortunately now own.  The formatting is so poor and distracting that the book is close to unreadable.

Who’s Lobbying now? Science & the New Parliament

Apparently the election in England has cost science 15 science-savy members of parliament.  The latest issue of Nature (Volume 465 Number 7295 pp135) appeals to researchers to get involved with educating the new parliament.  

 Non-partisan organizations such as the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CaSE) and the Royal Society are well placed to make a broad appeal to the new parliament.In the run-up to the election, CaSE encouraged all parties to make their positions on science known, and in its aftermath the organization must work to inform a new government’s science policies. The Royal Society, meanwhile, has a long-running programme matching scientists with MPs that could be particularly useful in educating new politicians. That programme should be put into high gear while the society considers other ways to engage parliament. Other scientific societies should rally their memberships to get the word out to new parliamentarians about the value of science. A well orchestrated, non-partisan appeal early in the life of the parliament could leave a lasting impression.

And an early and enduring impression may be crucial to preserving Britain’s scientific enterprise. Faced with a soaring budget deficit, whoever forms the new government will have to impose deep cuts on public spending. Unless researchers act swiftly, science could end up at the front of the firing line.

Recent proposed cuts in philosophy in the UK are very scary.  One can get the sense that philosophy is already at the front of the firing line.

Is there a comparable effort on behalf of humanities education?  Should there be?  To parliament or elsewhere?  What do you think?