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"Pressure to publish is hurting universities", "The Guardian", 5 juin 2008

mardi 24 juin 2008, par Laurence

The key word in Jonathan Wolff’s excellent piece (Education, June 3) was "perverse". It is indeed perverse to value research publication so highly that it threatens teaching standards, which is precisely what has been happening over the last 30 years. No one would want to argue that 30 years ago there were not one or two lecturers in the system who had given up research and replaced it with very little, but it was usually the case that one accepted such colleagues as an inevitable cost of essential freedom.

Now there is little freedom left. I myself have been pressured to publish an article too early simply because it was needed for the research assessment exercise and I have colleagues who have been forced into resigning early for similar reasons. I am convinced that successive RAEs have done nothing but lasting damage to the humanities. Above all, it has narrowed our choices and perspectives, penalising, for example, those who wish to open up new areas of interest (and so need time to retool) rather than plough a familiar furrow.

I am sure I am not the only one who fears for the future of British higher education if this is allowed to continue. A sabbatical once in a while is, of course, a sine qua non of a healthy academic life, but we are now subject to incessant pressure to teach less, hand over our classes to graduate students, and apply for large grants that take us away from contact with students altogether for years at a time. Quite why we in the UK are subject to far more pressures of this type than our colleagues in the best US universities is beyond me. Most depressing of all, there is plenty of evidence to suggest a large number of academics have been willing participants in this selfish, insidious degradation of the profession. How to stop it ? That is the question.

Richard Bowring
Professor of Japanese studies, University of Cambridge