UK: A thoughtless approach to research funding

What is the point of a university? Is it to challenge its students and push back the frontiers of knowledge? Or is it to turn out productive, profitable, commercial research? asks Ralph Wedgwood, a professor of philosophy at Merton College, Oxford, in a commentary in The Telegraph. He argues that the Labour government's plans for university funding could spell the end of serious research.

This age-old debate has flared up again recently, after a government quango came up with new proposals for funding. Under the Research Excellence Framework, a quarter of university research funding will be tied to "economic, social, public policy, cultural and quality of life impacts". Research that has "demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society" will be rewarded and encouraged; research that lacks such demonstrable impact will not.

The consultation period over the planned reforms has ended, and many academics have voiced their concerns: the pressure group Educators for Reform points out that the abstract research coming under attack has given us the X-Ray, the Google search algorithm and much else besides. But perhaps nowhere has the worry been as great as in my own field, philosophy, because the narrow conception of "impact" used by the Higher Education Funding Council for England seems to exclude most of the ways in which philosophy could possibly help society.
Full commentary on The Telegraph site