Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.
A recent report, published by an independent consultancy firm, discusses what they describe as the “hidden economic value of public engagement and knowledge exchange in UK universities” (Viewforth Consulting, 2018).
The quoted figures are certainly eye-catching. Based on extrapolating the data from 1093 university staff from three UK universities the authors of the report argue that, “UK university staff delivered 40 million hours of pro-bono public engagement and knowledge exchange in 2015-16”.
Putting the calculation of the figures aside for one moment, the report invites a crucial question around the following sentence (my emphasis):
This evidence indicates that university staff, with the approval and encouragement of their host institutions, provide a large and economically significant volume of public service and knowledge exchange to UK society on a voluntary basis.
(Viewforth Consulting, 2018: 2)
On the face of it, this appears to be a contradiction. Can you work in a voluntary capacity with the approval and encouragement of your employer? And what does approval versus encouragement mean in this context? They’re clearly not the same thing.
Further, how much of this activity was funded, directly or indirectly through HEIF (and equivalent schemes in the nations), Pathways to Impact funding, or through QR funding as a result of REF 2014? How much of the support for Widening Participation has contributed to teaching income and/or the TEF?
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