Home Education Higher Education Institutions in the EU: Between Competition and Public Service
Research in Public HEIs
As has been mentioned above, English HEIs are not public institutions in the same way as many of their continental counterparts. The complicated relationship between the public and the private in English HEIs has become even more difficult with English policy on HEIs increasingly leaning towards commercialisation, internationalisation, business style administration in governance and the encouragement of financial independence in recent years.
Research as a Statutory Task of HEIs
The law governing HEIs in England is to be found within a vast variety of sources, though it is planned to partly consolidate this with Higher Education and Research Act 2016 currently debated in parliament. Most important among the present legislation are the Education Reform Act 1988 (ERA), the FHEA, the
Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, the Higher Education Act 2004 and the Education Act 2011 which changed/amended some of the earlier Acts. ERA states in s 124 that ‘a higher education corporation shall have the power [...] to carry out research and to publish the results of the research’. FHEA states in s 65 that
activities eligible for funding [...] [by HEFCE] are (a) the provision of education and the undertaking of research by higher education institutions in the council’s area, (b) the provision of any facilities, and the carrying on of any other activities [...] for the purpose of or in connection with education or research, [...] (d) the provision by any person of services for the purposes of, or in connection with, the provision of education or the undertaking of research.
Research thus appears to be an activity which HEIs may carry out and receive funding for, but not a statutorily required task. Indeed, conducting of research does not appear to be part of the definition of a public HEI or even of a university.
According to s 68(1) FHEA the ‘Secretary of State may make grants to [...] [HEFCE] of such amounts and subject to such terms and conditions as he may determine’. HEFCE then, if applicable, passes the latter on to HEIs and can attach its own terms and conditions (s 65(3) FHEA). However, s 68(3) provides that the terms and conditions imposed upon HEFCE by the Secretary of State ‘may not be framed by reference to particular courses of study or programmes of research (including the contents of such courses or programmes and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed)’. Furthermore, s 202(2) ERA requires University Commissioners ‘to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges’. These provisions seem to limit external steering of research in favour of academic freedom. In the planned legislation the government intends to establish UKRI ‘in a way which [,..][the government] consider[s] offers the best balance between scientific and academic independence and accountability to Parliament’. This seems to refer mainly to s 93(2)(a) where it is established that directions ‘may not be framed by reference to [...] programmes of research (including the contents [these] [...] programmes and the manner in which they are [...] supervised or assessed)’. Quantitative restrictions of research do not seem to exist by statute.
There are three main research funding streams for English HEIs; they receive generic funding from HEFCE, project/programme related funding from research councils and funding from other sources. The first two are public funding streams and known as the ‘dual support system’. They comprise the majority of research funding for HEIs. Funding allocation through the dual support system contains competitive elements tending to concentrate funding in a small number of institutions. While this seems to have improved the competitiveness of UK HEIs, it has also been criticised for potentially overlooking high quality research in those HEIs which are not generally regarded as research intensive institutions. Funding from outside the dual support system is also increasingly gaining in importance. It comprises additional competitive public as well as private, third sector and international (currently still especially EU) funding.
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