Saturday, July 10, 2010

Research funding, pensions

Quite a flurry of genuinely important material for the Times Higher. The story that the REF will be delayed a year to resolve the dispute over "impact" is good news; regardless of whether this aspect of the REF is a good thing, any delay is a win, simply because of the enormous expense (mainly on academics' time) of national research assessment. Lots of comments follow the article, with Philip Moriarty in good form. (added 12.7.10: 2 more interesting links: This article (5.12.09) discusses the "James Ladyman index" and attracted a lot of comments; this one (1.7.10) has a comment by Ladyman)

The outcome of the USS meeting I mentioned previously is that probably the USS will switch to career-average earnings to compute pensions. In an attempt to make that fact sound interesting, let me put it this way: In the future, your pension contributions statement will not state the number of years of service you have accrued, but it will state your pension entitlement as a sum of money. Oh well, if that bores you, maybe you are wiser than I am.

This article reports on a speech by David Willetts on the case for science funding. So, he believes in it, that's a good thing. From the article:
Mr Willetts said he could not talk about spending commitments until the Comprehensive Spending Review is published this autumn, but warned that the UK could not afford to emulate the examples of the US, Canada and France, which had reacted to the recession by spending more on science.
Full marks, at any rate, for admitting that these other countries are raising spending on science.

Finally, sort of a weak forecast: maybe full economic costing of research grants is not going to collapse under the weight of its own stupidity, as I thought it would. Here's the argument. The Government wants to cut spending on universities but at the same time, wants to protect the strong against the weak. Now, one way to do that is to identify specific universities for preferential treatment, and I guess that's sort of what they're doing in Germany, but it's delicate, to say the least. Alternatively, you can identify characteristics of "strong" and show favoritism to universities having those characteristics. And research grants are quite handy, for that purpose. So, artificially inflate the value of all research grants, and the Matthew effect is duly enforced.

No comments: