One of the key provisions in King’s Royal Charter is this one:
“Staff employed by the College who are directly engaged in teaching and research shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.”
And what is important for individual academics is also important for institutions, and the UK university sector as a whole.
So well done Jo Johnson, for the good news from HEFCE and BIS yesterday: that the freedom to communicate research findings to the public, Parliament and government will not be curbed by the new clause in government grants announced in February.
As HEFCE commented yesterday:
“We welcome the announcement by the Minister today, which made clear that English higher education institutions in receipt of HEFCE funding are not intended to be covered by the new clause in government grants announced in February.
“This is good news for researchers in England who will be able to continue to communicate their findings to the public, Parliament and government and to provide advice on evidence and implications of research to inform policy, legislation and regulatory action.”
And as Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson MP himself said:
“Our world-class research base is a source of great pride for this country, which is why the government is continuing to protect the science budget to the end of the decade.
The new clause in government grants is about ensuring that taxpayers’ money is properly spent on what was intended in the grant agreements. I am very aware of questions that have been raised about what this could mean for our research base and the principle of academic autonomy that is such a critical part of its strength.
I have been talking to the research community and working hard with colleagues in government to determine what clarification may be necessary to ensure that research is not adversely affected in any way.
I am happy to confirm that it is not our intention for the Research Councils, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) or the National Academies to be covered by the clause. We are continuing to talk to the research community and will outline more detail by 1 May, when this clause takes effect.”
Wise words all.