Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Letters

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Letters

Article excerpt

It's not pure open access or bust

The Higher Education Policy Institute produces analytical blue books and more polemical yellow books. The latter are particularly designed to stimulate debate. The recent letter from Michael Taylor ("Licence absurdity", Letters, 9 April) suggests that no yellow book has done that as successfully as the newest one: Open Access: Is a National Licence the Answer?

We welcome Taylor's powerful critique, but his attack is flawed. First, it ignores the tentative spirit in which the proposal for a national licence was made. Our report says, "On close reflection, some of the issues raised could prove to be so complex that it is not seen as a proposal to take forward."

Second, it is confined to criticism when the tricky bit of policymaking is proposing practical alternatives to the status quo, which the Hepi paper does but Taylor's letter does not.

Third, it ignores the fact that we are searching for ways to improve access to previously published research for people such as teachers, health workers and policymakers. Compared with them, Taylor already has excellent access. His privileged vantage point encourages a black-and-white stance that pits pure open access against the status quo with nothing much in between. Yet a national licence has the potential to complement rather than squash other initiatives.

It is a pity that, as an advocate of open publishing, Taylor should end his letter by calling for a paper to be withdrawn not because it is badly argued or inaccurate but simply because he does not like its conclusions. For the avoidance of doubt, the Hepi paper will remain open for all to see at no charge on our website. Indeed, it is more accessible than some of Taylor's own published work.

Nick Hillman

Director

Higher Education Policy Institute

No way to manage tragedy

So the death of Stefan Grimm may not have been prevented even "if revised policies on performance management had been in place" ("New policy may not have prevented Imperial scholar's suicide, inquest told", News, 9 April).

Surely what this tells us is that Imperial College London does not need better "performance management" policies, but rather an abolition of the performance targets that equate good performance with financial targets of grant income. I have already given my opinions on such targets in my piece "The big grant money. The big papers. Are we missing anything?" (Opinion, 15 January). I am distressed to find that Imperial just doesn't get it, and seems to think that it can avoid future tragedies by just "managing" people and "supporting" them in dealing with the crazy targets that they are confronted with. In particular, it seems to have no understanding of the fact that there is a good element of randomness in whose grants get funded.

Placing so much emphasis on annual funding targets is bad for science, creates a dysfunctional incentive structure and is even worse for the individuals who try to do good science.

Dorothy Bishop

Professor of developmental neuropsychology University of Oxford

Quality evaluations

How much do student evaluations of the quality of academic staff in universities reflect the quality of academic research? The data from the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2015 published in THE last week show that staff quality evaluations are a fairly good measure of research quality.

If we correlate the grade point average scores from the research excellence framework with the quality of staff measure in the student survey, there is a moderately strong relationship (+0.46) for 91 higher education institutions in England. This means that good researchers tend to do well as teachers, as the REF and the students are by and large in agreement with each other. However, as is well known, the GPA figures were doctored by excluding significant numbers of staff from the exercise. …

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