Society

Higher Education issues 

THE fight to reband psychology as a laboratory-based discipline under the HEFCE Funding Method for Teaching continues, with the Joint Committee for Psychology in Higher Education (JCPHE, representing the BPS, the Experimental Psychology Society and the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments) responding to the latest consultation.
The response was prepared by Professor Dominic Abrams, Chair of JCPHE, supported and coordinated by the Research Board, with significant input from the Psychology Education Board. It commented on the general methodology that HEFCE proposes to adopt, but strong arguments were also made for a reassessment of the current banding of psychology.
l    Concerns were expressed over the quality of the evidence upon which the costs of teaching are calculated. The methodology should be finalised on the basis of
a clear consensus within the academic community.
l    The true cost should be established by looking at the nature and needs of disciplines. There are dangers that the funding model will become overly prescriptive rather than responsive to the appropriate needs and costs of teaching resources.
l    In previous assessments, HEFCE failed to distinguish between accredited and non-accredited courses resulting in a significant underestimation of the cost per student on accredited courses. The response outlined in detail the stringent requirements for the graduate basis for registration (GBR) and the minimum resources that are expected.
l    Rebanding has put serious pressure on staff:student ratios (SSRs), resulting in
an increasing failure of departments to meet the requirements for GBR (20:1). This constitutes a serious threat to the discipline and to the quality of education that can be provided.
l    Psychology is a science and should be funded as a science. The discipline is rooted in scientific methods and practices and requires students to become adept at statistical analysis, scientific methods and design, and requires knowledge of measurement in both biological and behavioural domains. Psychology research is funded by science-based research councils, and the Society is a member of the Science Council. Moreover, the QCA is moving to classify psychology as science in pre-tertiary education, and the discipline is continuing to undergo huge expansion at GCSE, AS- and A-level.
l    The extent of the disquiet and concern about the effects of the current banding of psychology was emphasised. As the discipline continues to grow in popularity and relevance, the net effect of the rebanding of psychology may be to reduce modal funding per science student. This is because the supposedly appropriate
level of resource has been reduced substantially in what is arguably one of the most attractive areas of science (for example, against a baseline of a 7 per cent decrease in physics and a 28 per cent decrease in undergraduate enrolment overall, psychology had a 93 per cent increase between 1996/7 and 2003/4). Psychology is also one of the main recruiters of women into science.
 
In addition, a response to the HEFCE consultation on its Strategic Plan was prepared by Professor Nick Emler, Deputy Chair of the BPS Research Board. The response emphasised that the Society believes that a strategy for higher education should be founded upon a clear and appropriate vision of higher education, including what sets it apart from further or other kinds of education, or for that matter from vocational training. The draft Strategic Plan is criticised for not having such a clear vision.
The response to the Strategic Plan also emphasised the need for HE teaching environments to be research-informed, and called for an acknowledgement of the difficulties surrounding this, given the inequality of research support via the RAE. It highlighted a lack of confidence in the teaching funding review as a result of its reliance on weak methodology. There is considerable suspicion in the academic community that there is an intention to split teaching and research. Teaching and research are indivisible and cannot be regarded as distinct activities.
The JCPHE also outlined the belief that the RAE presents a significant risk to
the objectives of developing innovative forms of inquiry. Past experience demonstrates that RAEs have encouraged conservatism in universities’ research policies. Such exercises have certainly discouraged investment in interdisciplinary studies. The draft plan appears to offer no prospect of countering this effect.
The JCPHE hopes that these arguments will encourage HEFCE to revisit the banding issue for psychology. In due course, departments of psychology will be approached to provide evidence of the impact of the drop in funding to present to HEFCE. The BPS Scientific Officer is also preparing a statement for publication in THES to raise awareness in relation to this crucial issue.
o If you have queries regarding either of these responses or need more information, please contact Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, Scientific Officer ([email protected]).

DRAFT MINUTES  OF A SPECIAL GENERAL MEETING

9 December, 10am, 33 John Street, London WC1
Dr Graham Powell was in the chair and 10 members were present.
1.     The result of the postal ballot for President 2007/8 was declared. Dr Pam Maras will serve as President Elect 2006/7 and will take up the office of President in 2007/8.
2.    The result of the postal ballot concerning the Resolution ‘That a London and Home Counties Branch be formed in accordance with Rule 36(d)’ was declared as follows:
    For 810    Against 55
Therefore the Resolution was carried.  

Equal Opportunities Committee Vacancies

The Standing Committee for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities (SCPEO) has responsibility for the implementation of the Society’s Equal Opportunities Policy. Vacancies are pending. Are you:
l    passionate about equal opportunities issues?
l    able to attend four meetings a year and contribute to SCPEO activities?
l    interested in furthering the aims of the committee?
We welcome expressions of interest from all membership grades within the Society, whether you are a Student Subscriber or a Fellow. You don’t need to be an expert but you do need to be committed to equality and diversity and making it happen within the Society. SCPEO members have a range of experience and skills and we work together to support the Society fully on equality and diversity issues.
If you are interested in finding out more, then please contact us for an information pack. We can also put you in touch with current committee members, who are happy to answer questions and share their experience of SCPEO activities.
Information packs, including a post description and statement of interest form, are available from Felicity Hector on 0116 252 9507 or [email protected]. Deadline for returning statements of interest is Wednesday 19 April 2006.
Appointments to this committee are made by the Board of Trustees. Terms of office are normally for three years.

Ethics Column No.5

HOW THE INVESTIGATORY COMMITTEE WORKS
Many members are concerned about how a complaint, if it is made, will be considered by the BPS. The mechanism for this first involves a body called the Investigatory Committee.
The Investigatory Committee, which consists of nine senior chartered psychologists from a range of backgrounds, considers all complaints made to the Society and makes recommendations to the lay members of the Professional Conduct Board about whether there has been misconduct and whether a hearing or some action should take place.
Once a complaint has been received, the member who is the subject of the complaint is usually asked to respond to it, and the complainant is also given an opportunity to comment on that response.
All members of the Investigatory Committee read all the information provided during a complaint. A member of the committee, who will usually come from the relevant subsystem for the type of work complained about, will be asked to lead the committee’s discussion, and will advise about accepted standards for that type of work. The committee members look at what evidence is available to support the accounts given and apply their common sense and experience to reach a decision, which will be made on the balance of probabilities .
There may be some dispute about what is appropriate behaviour in a particular context, for example, the committee is aware that two ‘reasonable’ psychologists looking at the same circumstances may arrive at different decisions without one of those decisions necessarily being unethical. In examining professional judgements, the committee pays particular attention to the process that was used to reach the decision, and in responding to a complaint members should therefore be prepared to explain the ways in which they made their decisions.
The committee also accepts that not all examples of poor work constitute misconduct, and that where the line between misconduct and poor-quality work falls is a matter of fact in the individual circumstances of each case. The committee takes the view that it is not appropriate to use the disciplinary procedure to give advice on standards where the poor work falls short of being misconduct. If they find themselves in the unfortunate position of having a complaint made against them, members may want to consider why complaints arose in relation to their work, even if no misconduct if found.
In deciding what recommendation to put forward, the committee uses
 a sliding scale that takes into account elements such as the seriousness of the allegation, the decision-making processes used, the potential harm, the strength of feeling among committee members and specialist knowledge. The committee tends towards caution and will usually appoint a panel to carry out further investigation where there is ambiguity about whether misconduct has occurred.
The process of investigating complaints can take time to ensure fairness to all parties, and inevitably delays can occur. For members and complainants this is a stressful period, but of the 42,000 members only about 120 are complained about in a year, and of these only about 10 to 15 matters are referred to a full hearing.
The complaints-handling process is set out in the Society’s Statutes 14 and 15. More details about the complaints process are also available on the website or by contacting the Society’s regulatory affairs team on 0116 254 9568, or at [email protected].

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