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Undergraduate Research: To Fund or Not To Fund?

James Young, Department of History, University of Warwick

 

Since becoming Editor of Reinvention at the end of October, my awareness surrounding undergraduate research experiences and matters concerning university funding has seemed to have grown. Some would say that keeping up to date with matters concerning university institutions would, and should, come with the job. Indeed, as Reinvention nears its ten-year anniversary in September of this year, I have been reflecting on the many things that has made it such a long-lasting success when compared with other student-run journals. Being open-access is certainly one of its biggest successes, and has stopped it from suffering the fate of other student journals that have failed to last due to high printing costs (Mariani et al., 2013: 833).

Reinvention's longevity seems to indicate that the funding for it is high, although this is not necessarily the case. People are surprised when they are informed of the actual monetary expenditure inputted into Reinvention and I believe that this is a testament to the hard work that has been devoted to the journal over the past ten years from its student editorial team.

While departmental funding from IATL at the University of Warwick may not be the backbone that supports the journal's day-to-day operations, just like any other funding, it definitely does help. Being Editor of an undergraduate research journal means that I may be more tuned to the importance of funding than most undergraduates who have not had to worry about such issues. Recently, however, the subject has received a lot more awareness due to the British Government's new Teaching and Excellence Framework for universities. As said in the Government's Press Release of 16 May 2016, '[the TEF] will link the funding of university teaching to quality, and not simply the quantity of students (a principle long established for funding research)' (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2016). Funding will be adjusted for universities in England based on the ranks that they have been given: Bronze, Silver or Gold. This has led to many university student unions calling for a boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS), which will play a key part in formulating the rankings of universities. Institutional funding can play an important role in student experience, and the prevalence that the issue has received in Warwick's campus indicates that things such as funding are receiving import from students across different disciplines.

Personally, I have been the beneficiary of research funding from the University of Warwick after partaking in the Undergraduate Research Support Scheme in the summer of 2015. Upon a reflection of that experience, I can see how formative undertaking independent research was to being involved in and gaining an interest in the practice and dissemination of undergraduate research. Outside of my personal experience, opportunities for undergraduates to undertake research have been shown to increase the confidence of the participants and to create new expectations of obtaining a Ph.D. - even if they had no previous thought of doing one (Russell et al., 2007: 548-50). Feedback from Reinvention's published authors also attests to the findings of undergraduate students gaining more confidence in their abilities and the push for the desire to delve further into the world of academia. (Jeric, 2013). In one specific circumstance, participating in undergraduate research led to a higher overall satisfaction among alumni in regards to their undergraduate education when compared to students who had not been involved in an undergraduate research programme. (Bauer and Bennett, 2003: 226-27).

This then leads to a question that should be pertinent during all discussions of student experience within higher education institutions: If participating in undergraduate research can have such wide-spread benefits on a student's university education then why is there not an appropriate barometer for this considering university funding is now going to be inextricably linked with student satisfaction? Evidently, participating in research can significantly improve an undergraduate's experience at university and therefore surveys such as the NSS should be proactive in recognising this and finding a way to include it.

Nevertheless, all of these outcomes of undergraduate research are beneficial for undergraduates and universities, and I am sure that many opportunities provided to undergraduates are only available if they have the necessary funding. Many papers that are submitted and/or subsequently published in Reinvention have come from funded research programmes that are not part of an undergraduate degree. However, despite working for Reinvention, I do not fully agree with the view of the previous editors of the Journal of Young Investigators that undergraduate research programmes should have an increased emphasis on writing up the results of a project (Ali et al., 2007: 42). Research has many different outcomes and the final result of writing up an article is not necessarily the most important thing (Grimwade, 2016). Undertaking research is a learning process; being able to handle funding provided by the university or an external source plays a key role in this process and its importance should not be ignored.

I am sure that the authors included in Volume 10 Issue 1 of Reinvention have all gone through their own research process, whether or not that included having to independently handle research funding.

In an article that addresses how student experiences could be improved in higher institutions, Cheryl Koh Qi Yuan's article, 'International Academic Staff: What is their role in the internationalisation of higher education at an Australian institution' explores the advantages that international staff can play in shaping curriculum and the current barriers to this, through the utilisation and analysis of interviews.

At the end of 2016, Walt Disney retained the biggest U.S. market share among movie studios. Oyinkansola Fafowora asks us to re-assess how we view and position the movie Tarzan (1999), - the product of a predominantly Western perspective - in her article 'Imagining the 'Dark Continent': Disney's Tarzan and defining the African post-colonial subject'.

Anthony Hallal is thought-provoking in his article 'Some Problems with an Instrumental Argument for a Human Right to Democracy'. He argues that one of the key reasons people believe there should be Human Right to Democracy - that it leads to the enactment of other human rights - is a flawed concept in both its reasoning and execution.

The final article is Hannah Hume's 'Gene Editing: The road to transhumanism'. As technology in the 21st century seems to be advancing at an incredibly fast rate, Hume offers a thoughtful consideration about the ethical and social implications of using new technologies in human gene editing.

There is also a set of book reviews in this issue of Reinvention from a student of Monash University, Christina Gangemi and LSE academic, Dr Kirstie O'Neill. They review Bill Nye's 2015 book, Unstoppable: Harnessing science to change the world, a book that feels increasingly relevant in light of recent legislative actions of the United States government regarding climate change.

Reinvention's team at Monash University has changed considerably since the publication of the last issue with the departure of two assistant editors, Alexis Tan and Jana Howden, and the previous book reviews editor, Bernard Keo. I was not able to work with each of them for very long but I know that they were an immense credit to the journal and I wish them all the best in their future endeavours. The team at Warwick has also changed with the departure of Amy Clarke who was providing maternity cover in the position of Managing Editor. Amy has been a huge help since I joined the journal while also keeping things in good order and I was very sorry to see her leave. Our current team is now looking forward to the tenth anniversary of Reinvention in September - a milestone for ongoing undergraduate research journals.


References

Ali, F., N. M. Jadavji, W. C. H. Ong, K. R. Pandey, A. N. Patananan, H. K. Prabhala and C. H-T. Yang (2007), 'Supporting undergraduate research', Science, 317 (5834), 42

Bauer, K. W. and J. S. Bennet (2003), 'Alumni perceptions to assess undergraduate research experience', The Journal of Higher Education, 74 (2), 210-30

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016), New universities to deliver choice and opportunity for students, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-universities-to-deliver-choice-and-opportunity-for-students, accessed 20 March 2017

Grimwade, J. (2016), 'Undergraduates: Publish and be damned?', Reinvention: An International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 9 (2), available at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/issues/volume9issue2/editorial, accessed 20 March 2017

Jeric, J. (2013), 'Editorial: Reinvention yourself through undergraduate research,' Reinvention: An International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6 (1), http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/reinvention/issues/volume6issue1/editorial/, accessed 20 March 2017

Mariani, M., F. Buckley, T. Reidy and R. Witmer (2013), 'Promoting student learning and scholarship through undergraduate research journals', PS: Political Science and Politics, 46 (4),830-35

Nye, B, edited by C. S. Powell (2015), Unstoppable: Harnessing science to change the world, New York: St. Martin's Press

Russell., S. H., M. P. Hancock and J. McCullough (2007), 'Benefits of undergraduate research experiences', Science, New Series, 316 (5824), 548-49

 

To cite this paper please use the following details: Young, J. (2017), 'Undergraduate Research: To Fund or Not To Fund?', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 10, Issue 1, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/issues/volume10issue1/editorial. Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.