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15th July 2016

Higher Education and Research Bill – what is it for?

Filed under: About universities,Diary,Not extinct — John Allen @ 6:16 pm

This morning I attended a discussion meeting at the House of Lords concerning the Higher Education and Research Bill.

In my opinion there is an urgent need to oppose this disastrous Bill.

The Convention for Higher Education has produced a summary of the many reasons for doing so.

These include, quoting from the e-mail of invitation to today’s meeting:-

  • the proposed reorganisation of research in the UK (including abolition of the Research Councils’ royal charters);
  • the proposed introduction of a lower bar for entry into English higher education by new ‘alternative providers’;
  • the proposal to abolish Privy Council involvement in the granting of English university title, and to vest all such powers (including withdrawal of title) in a new body entirely appointed by and overseen by the Secretary of State.

The Bill seems designed to consolidate Failing management in UK universities.

In its 117 pages, the Bill contains neither definition nor description of the term university. The Bill has no declared aim. What is its purpose?

Teaching is to be overseen by an Office for Students.

The White paper’s short section “Research” is entirely about United Kingdom Research and Innovation, a superstructure for the Research Councils. Is research itself no longer a core university activity?

From the Higher Education and Research Bill:-

UK research and innovation functions
UKRI may—
(a) carry out research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(b) facilitate, encourage and support research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(c) facilitate, encourage and support the development and exploitation of science, technology and new ideas,
(d) collect, disseminate and advance knowledge in and in connection with science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(e) promote awareness and understanding of science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(f) provide advice on any matter relating to any of its functions, and
(g) promote awareness and understanding of its activities.

“…and new ideas” – listed as if these are a separate field of enquiry. I wonder what the authors imagine research to be?

A member of academic staff in a real university researches and teaches. These two activities are complementary; each supports the other. Research qualifies a university teacher to take students to the boundary of existing knowledge, to try to see beyond it, and to question what they find there.


  1. Dear John

    Presumably the category of ‘new ideas’ is meant to add something to the previous list, as otherwise it would be redundant! On this basis, ‘new ideas’ does not fall into the categories of humanities, technology and science. Perhaps the drafters mean ‘management nonsense’. But this is not a ‘new idea’. (I have been watching Game of Thrones, so it must be true.)

    Last time I looked ‘technology’ was a subset of ‘science’, at least as ‘science’ appears to be generically defined.

    But perhaps BIS think that computers run on magic.

    Comment by Sean Wallis — 15th July 2016 @ 7:07 pm

  2. Thank you, Sean.

    My own interpretation is that the Bill’s authors perhaps view Science, Technology, and Humanities as static bodies of certain knowledge, and the aim of “Research” is to apply them. It may not have occurred to them that these fields exist as a result of research, and that they advance only because they incorporate and test “new ideas”.

    This mistaken view seems to reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of knowledge and how we obtain it. However, “knowledge” appears only once in the 117 pages of the Bill – this is in point (d) which appears in article 85, on page 58.

    I wish one could see what the Bill imagines a university is, and what it is for. It’s a mystery. I’ve edited my original post a little to point this out.

    Since yesterday we have the news that Jo Johnson is appointed Minister of State for Universities and Science. With the sweeping powers described in the Bill he can probably adopt the view that a word means anything he wants it to.

    Comment by John Allen — 16th July 2016 @ 1:38 pm

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