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UCU welcomes Tory calls for suspension of research restrictions

14 January 2010

UCU today welcomed the announcement by the Conservatives that they would suspend controversial new changes to the way university research is funded.

In an interview with the Times Higher the shadow minister for higher education, David Willetts, said he would delay proposals that would force 25% of future research to be assessed on 'economic impacts' by two years in order to listen to the concerns of the academic community.
The news comes just a week after a UCU poll of top professors revealed that over a third (35%) would consider pursuing their academic career abroad if the plans were introduced.
The controversial proposals, announced by Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), have been condemned by the academic community as an attack on curiosity-driven research. In December UCU handed in a petition with almost 18,000 signatures that came from the full range of academic disciplines and included six Nobel Prize winners and over 3,000 professors.
UCU said if researchers had been operating under the new guidelines many crucial discoveries would have been missed and called on politicians from all parties to take note of the unease within the academic community.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'UCU welcomes David Willetts's scepticism over these proposals as we feel they threaten the very basis of curiosity driven research. It is essential that politicians from all parties recognise the deep unease within the academic community at these untested proposals.  

'As our recent poll of leading professors shows we risk losing some of our best and brightest minds if this new system is put in to place. It is time HEFCE and the government started listening to the concerns of academics and not just the siren calls of big business. History has taught us that some of the biggest breakthroughs have come from speculative research and it is wrong to try and measure projects purely on their economic potential.'

UCU produced a report that looks in greater detail at how some of our most crucial breakthroughs would not have been discovered without curiosity-driven research. Download the report here:  Discoveries that would not survive the REF [84kb]

Signatories to the UCU petition included Sir Tim Hunt (Nobel Prize winner); Sir John Walker (Nobel Prize winner); Sir Harold Kroto (Nobel Prize winner); Sir Richard Roberts (Nobel Prize winner); Professor Brian Josephson (Nobel Prize winner); Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (Nobel Prize winner); Professor Richard Dawkins; Professor Denis Noble; Professor Steven Rose; Professor Steve Jones; Professor Don Braben Professor John Dainton; (all scientists); Professor Fritz Ursell; Sir John Ball (both Mathematics); Sir Tony Wrigley; Dame Janet Nelson (both History); Professor Jonathan Glover; Professor James Ladyman (Philosophy); Professor T J Clark (Art History); Professor Allyson Pollock (Public Policy); Professor Richard Sennett (Sociology).

Last updated: 11 December 2015