October 2013 newsletter – Reflections on CHUDE

Neil Rickman, University of Surrey, has just retired after six years as chairman of the RES’s Conference of the Heads of University Departments of Economics. Here he recalls some of its activities and achievements.

CHUDE is the Conference of Heads of University Departments of Economics. It's a formal committee of the RES and its membership consists of the heads of the departments, schools, units, etc, that deliver Economics in each British university: there are about 90 of these. I was fortunate to chair CHUDE for six years up to 2012, benefiting enormously from being able to work with Tim Worrall as Secretary: Tim’s knowledge, organization and good sense were frequent substitutes for my lack of all three. Tim and I were, in turn, both fortunate to take over from Denise Osborn (Chair) and Alan Carruth (Secretary) who were a tough act to follow but handed on a fully functioning model for which we were extremely grateful. We were had the pleasure of working with many committed heads (not least on the CHUDE Steering Committee) and Presidents of RES who all involved themselves with CHUDE.

As heads of departments will be only too aware, their units find themselves at the intersection of many of the main aspects of Higher Education research and teaching policy. By collecting heads together, CHUDE can act as a focus for discussion and reaction to these, and as an important conduit for the RES to develop its awareness and views in these areas, not least by straddling the various forms of Economics unit based in and outside Business Schools. Its activities therefore range across most aspects of the discipline: UG applications, and A-level content, UG/PG teaching through its links with the Economics Network and QAA consultations, careers and professional practice through links with the Government Economic Service and the Bank of England, training of new lecturers and PhDs for teaching through the Economics Network again, Post-graduate Research through ESRC consultations, and UK research through the REF and developments of ESRC funding policies, and important demographic issues such as those covered by the RES Women’s Committee.

I was Chair at the time of several developments which had an impact on departments’ activities and, as such, helped to define CHUDE’s agenda during my term. There are numerous examples. The introduction of the NSS and fee-paying undergraduates have both sharpened the focus on the undergraduate offer in most departments. At the level of research students and income, the introduction of DTCs and discussions of demand management have both affected the ways that a number of traditional activities have been undertaken by departments.challenges for the discipline.

At the level of research itself, the introduction of impact to the REF and the developing open access agenda have both raised challenges for the discipline.

In some cases, CHUDE was able to use its network of departmental contacts to perform an information gathering and response role. Thus, it played a central role in helping to inform RES policy during ESRC consultations over DTCs and demand management. The same was true of the ESRC's International Benchmarking of Economics (which overlapped the handover between Denise and I). When HEFCE needed RAE/REF sub-panel members, CHUDE’s infrastructure was helpful.

Perhaps the best, and most rewarding, example of CHUDE’s activity during my time was the development of the Economics Network. This began as one of a number of subject centres funded by the Higher Education Academy and developed a strong network of academics with a shared interest in supporting the teaching of economics, producing online materials, training workshops, etc, under John Sloman’s energetic leadership. When the HEA’s funding was removed, all but two of the subject centres died — Economics being one of the exceptions. Instead, perhaps assisted by the profile earned by the Network at CHUDE meetings, the shared interests in reaping the economies provided by the Network’s experience and resources surfaced as a demand to maintain several of its core functions. Along with RES support, the result was generous assistance from departments in terms of funding and more general support, and the University of Bristol’s offer to host the Network. Economics therefore retains a designated resource, responsive to the departments (not least through CHUDE), at a time of growing demands on teaching quality and support — from HEFCE, students and universities. This initiative could develop in a number of directions but the role of departments gives RES a clear interest here — one that actually harks back to the foundations of CHUDE by the Association of University Teachers and Lecturers.

Looking ahead, there are plenty of interesting challenges for CHUDE, as I know Eric Pentecost (Chair) and Daniel Zizzo (Secretary) are aware! They'll have plenty of their own ideas and views about these so I’ll just list a couple of the more obvious ones. The REF results themselves will be important, especially if they continue the trend of falling submissions to the Economics and Econometrics sub-panel and confirm CHUDE as a crucial link between the various bases for Economics departments these days. How will the REF impact agenda, or open access policy develop? Both are areas where CHUDE will be consulted and needs to reflect the views of members. The evolution of the Economics Network itself will also be important.

My main sense at the end of six years is that CHUDE is a good example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts — or, at least, having the potential to be so when it can gather up the various constituencies within the discipline (large and small, Economics and Business-based, etc). It is more effective, and more fun, when departments engage: we learn more about each other, share problems and solutions, play a greater role in RES decisions and strategy and are a stronger voice for the discipline in universities and the HE policy world beyond.

You might have guessed from the above that I enjoyed my time as Chair of CHUDE: I was able to engage with issues that seemed important and with a lot of good (and busy) heads of department. So my final reflection is one of thanks to all for letting me have a go!