The Chief Scientist on the ‘undergraduate distortion’.


Ian Chubb notes how the current funding system for undergraduate education distorts research funding at Universitiesˆ. The point is correct and will continue as long as undergraduate education is tied to research funding. Economics has generally benefitted from this link in terms of resources. However, whether comparing across disciplines or across institutions, the problem is the same. My suggested solution is here. It is not perfectˆˆ. However, the debate needs to be had.

ˆ If the ‘paywall’ stops you the basic argument is that University funding for academic resources follows undergraduate numbers. Thus popular disciplines get to hire more academics (and remember that 30-40% of their salary is for research) and this harms less popular areas that may be more worthy of research. To quote:

This means that as a whole, more, probably much more, than 50 per cent of all government spending on research is seriously influenced by the choices of our 17- and 18-year-olds.

ˆˆI can see the issues of completely separating research and graduate teaching from the undergraduate pots-of-gold. It places research institutions very much at the mercy of government and their funding. So perhaps there should be, say, eight graduate schools that have undergraduate arms but most undergraduate teaching in other institutions with professional undergraduate teachers. As I note in the comments – this would lead to one hell of a fight between who is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the eight.

3 Responses to "The Chief Scientist on the ‘undergraduate distortion’."
  1. If you look at the ERA 2010 report research funding dollars in particular are totally dominated by medicine, biology, and engineering. The distribution of research outputs is a little more even, and staffing more so across disciplines. So it is hard for me at least to see that research funding is following the disciplines that undergrads want to study.

  2. David
    There is a big difference between the explicit research funding and the (larger) implicit funding. Explicit funding (ARC, NHMRC, etc) is dominated by medicine, engineering, etc. Implicit funding is the part of every academics salary that is associated with research (30-40% of their salary). Ian Chubb is presumably talking about this bit (otherwise his comments wouldn’t make sense). This follows staff numbers which follows undergraduate numbers.
    Note I am NOT saying that there should be more research funding for particular areas. What I am saying is that because every full time academic (except the few ‘teaching intensive’ staff) is paid to do research, research funding is explicitly tied to teaching and leads to a lot of academics who are not world class researchers being paid to do research. I would prefer centres of research excellence that are properly funded.

  3. While I share the view that the teaching-research regulatory and funding relationship needs re-examining, I can’t easily see how Chubb’s numbers could be right in talking about government funding. The only study we have of teaching-only costs (for the base funding review last year) puts these at about $1,000 per EFTSL on average below funding for a Commonwealth-supported student in 2010. That works out at about $500 million in student-driven research funding for that year (presuming that the money is spent on research). This compares to around $2.5 billion in direct Commonwealth research funding for that year.

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