University cuts show science is far from saved

Nature 469, 133 (2011) | 12 January 2011 | doi:10.1038/469133a | by Colin Macilwain
Tuesday 18 January 2011
by  antonin
3 Votes

Scientific leaders have been too quick to praise the reprieve for research money, says Colin Macilwain. The slashing of teaching funds will do real damage.

In countries where the economic crisis has hit hardest, science has not done badly — so far. But universities from Bologna to Berkeley face an almost existential crisis. While governments defend research spending, they are simultaneously slashing public funding for universities, where most research takes place.

The reaction from science lobby groups and figureheads in the scientific community to this situation has been bafflingly cheerful. Either they have lost touch with what’s happening on the ground, or else they are preoccupied with flattering politicians for ’saving science’ — when politicians are actually cutting the very ground from underneath it. Most researchers know what is really going on, however, because they work in the universities where overall budgets are under the hammer.

Science today is so thoroughly embedded in universities that the line between the two has become difficult to discern. And research in universities requires solid undergraduate and graduate learning and teaching. It is foolhardy to weaken this foundation, because the modern research university is built on the energy and ideas of students. Students are not customers of a university; they are its very soul. The idea that research will prosper while teaching and learning decay is a dangerous fallacy.

The failure of many in the science establishment to pursue this point is most visible in Britain, where money for research and teaching comes from the same pot: the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. In the autumn spending review, warmly praised by many who claim to speak for UK science, this department saw its budget cut more steeply than any other big-spending arm of the UK government — by 8% a year for four years.

When the cuts were announced, John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, joined other officials in boasting that science had been protected, after Treasury officials were persuaded of its worth (see Nature 467, 1017; 2010). But the Treasury hadn’t given an inch. Science was protected purely by eviscerating public support for university teaching in England.

The reaction of Wellcome Trust head Mark Walport was typical. "I am delighted that the government has recognised the huge importance of science," he said. "The government has listened to the voices of the science community who argued that continued investment in science was vital to the United Kingdom’s future success. It is now up to the science community to ensure it delivers on this crucial vote of confidence."

One problem with this promise is that it isn’t within the power of the universities, or scientists, to deliver a competitive economy.

As Geoffrey Boulton of the University of Edinburgh and Colin Lucas, former vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, have pointed out, governments have started to make crazy assumptions about the ability of universities to deliver innovative companies and successful economies. In a 2008 League of European Research Universities paper, What are Universities For?, the duo argued that the thrust of higher-education policy in many countries is "squeezing out diversity of function and undermining teaching and learning". Among policy-makers, they warned, "slipshod thinking about universities is leading to demands that they cannot satisfy, while obscuring their most important contributions to society and undermining their potential".

Boulton and Lucas were talking mainly about Europe, but there are related problems in the United States. University management there is too often obsessed with building grandiose labs, to be financed by overheads on future research grants they expect to win from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (B. Alberts Science 329, 1257; 2010). With major expansion at the NIH over, and state government support for teaching in rapid decline, many institutions are now locked in a futile battle to fill these white elephants, creating what biochemist Kenneth Mann of the University of Vermont in Burlington has dubbed "a toxic, uncertain environment" for students.

With the long-term decline of top-class independent or corporate laboratories, almost all Nobel prize-level science is now done at universities. And the greatest universities, starting at the top with Harvard, increasingly define themselves chiefly in terms of their scientific prowess — or, more prosaically, by the amount of research funding they can attract.

When the universities were doing well — and in many parts of the world, they have just enjoyed decades of expansion — the concentration of scientific research within their walls was more or less entirely beneficial. When the economic storm struck in 2008, the ride came to an abrupt end. Now, as Western governments attempt to maintain investment in science as a route to innovation and industrial development, they are undermining support for students and the quality of their education. Instead of joining with students and teaching staff elsewhere in academia in protest, too many scientific leaders have stood aloof. (Martin Rees, until this month the president of the Royal Society in London, is a notable exception.) Strategically, this approach is a disaster in waiting.

China and India know this and are building universities from the ground up, with a firm emphasis on student education as their bedrock of energy and ideas. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, these foundations are being demolished, and students drowned in debt, to keep researchers’ grants flowing. It can only end badly, and more in the scientific establishment should have the courage to say so.

Colin Macilwain is a contributing correspondent with Nature.
e-mail: cfmworldview gmail.com


Read on the website of Nature

Picture: Une étudiante patiente avant le début de la manifestation devant l’université de Cambridge (Royaume-Uni) le 24 novembre 2010 (D. STAPLES, REUTERS)



commentaires article

Agenda

<<

2014

 

<<

Juillet

 

Aujourd'hui

LuMaMeJeVeSaDi
30123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031123
Aucun évènement à venir les 2 prochains mois

News items

[Sweden] New legislation to help foreign postgraduates stay on

Sunday 27 April

On 1 July this year, new legislation will come into force in Sweden that includes measures which will make it considerably easier for foreign doctoral candidates and students to stay and work in the country after graduating.

An agreement between the outgoing Alliance government and the Swedish Green party will secure a majority vote for the proposal in the parliament. (...) – University World News, by Jan Petter Myklebust, 21 March 2014 Issue No:312

On the Web : Full news here

US : Dwindling tenure posts

vendredi 18 avril

Tenure is dying out at US universities.

The proportion of non-tenure-track and non-tenured faculty posts continues to rise across all US institutions, finds a report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington DC. Losing Focus : The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 201314 surveyed 1,159 public and private US institutions and found that the overall proportion of assistant professors in non-tenure-track posts was 23.4 for 201314, compared with 20.8 in 201011. Dwindling tenured and tenure-track posts threaten the ability of scientists to conduct research without interference from funders or administrators, says John Curtis, the report’s lead author and director of research and public policy for the AAUP. - Nature, 508, 277, 09 April 2014

Sur le Web : Read on nature.com

Les coupes budgétaires pèsent sur la recherche académique américaine

jeudi 12 décembre 2013

Aux USA, les répercussions des coupes budgétaires fédérales pour la recherche académique sont bien visibles selon une études récentes :

  • moins de place pour les étudiants dans les labos (stages, doctorat, ...) : - 31% ;
  • moins de CDD à temps partiel : -30% ;
  • moins de postdoctorants : - 24% ;
  • moins de postes fixes dans 22% des cas.

Une recherche académique en récession aux USA...

Étudiants étrangers : la sénatrice Dominique Gillot dépose une proposition de loi visant à améliorer leurs conditions d’accueil et de séjour

vendredi 15 février 2013

« Il n’est (?) ni dans l’intérêt des pays d’origine, ni dans le nôtre, de renvoyer chez eux les étrangers dès la fin de leurs études. Au contraire, c’est après au moins une première expérience professionnelle que ces diplômés pourront, à leur retour chez eux ou à l’international, mettre à profit les compétences acquises en France et en faire la promotion. » Voilà ce qu’écrit Dominique Gillot, sénatrice (PS) du Val d’Oise, dans l’exposé des motifs de la proposition de loi relative à l’attractivité universitaire de la France qu’elle dépose mardi 12 février 2013.

« Droit illimité au séjour » pour les diplômés d’un doctorat français. Dans son article 4, la proposition de loi « crée un droit illimité au séjour en France pour tout diplômé d’un doctorat obtenu en France, à qui la carte ’compétences et talents’ est délivrée sur sa demande ». Il est précisé que « cette disposition a vocation à favoriser les échanges entre les pays d’origine et la France, permettant de développer une coopération économique continue, enrichissante, sans pillage des cerveaux des pays émergents ».

Titularisations loi Sauvadet : du nouveau ?

vendredi 23 novembre 2012
  • Reçu ce jour sur la liste SLR-débats -
    Selon l’AEF (dépêche n° 174978 du 22/11, extraits) :
  • « Le MESR « a obtenu les moyens de créer une voie supplémentaire et réservée d’accès à la fonction publique. En 2013, plus de 2 000 personnes pourront en bénéficier », se réjouit Geneviève Fioraso, ministre de l’ESR, dans un communiqué mercredi 21 novembre 2012, après avoir reçu « les organisations syndicales représentatives dans l’enseignement supérieur et la recherche pour leur annoncer le plan d’action ministériel pour la résorption de l’emploi précaire ». Cette réunion faisait suite au comité technique ministériel du 6 novembre dernier, qui n’avait pas pu se tenir faute de quorum : la CGT, la FSU et FO avaient en effet refusé de siéger pour protester contre les modalités de titularisation des contractuels retenues par le MESR
  • La ministre rappelle que le recensement effectué fait état de 8 400 précaires à ce jour dans les universités et de 1 400 dans les organismes de recherche. Elle se donne « pour objectif de conduire le plan de titularisation en quatre ans ». « En complément, les nouvelles orientations de l’ANR (Agence nationale pour la recherche) vont contribuer à diminuer le flux de nouveaux CDD. En particulier, aucun projet scientifique ne pourra être financé s’il repose à plus de 30 % sur le travail d’agents non titulaires ». »
Sur le Web : Lire la suite sur SLR
Soutenir par un don