Education research funding shortfall exposed by learned societies

Royal Society and British Academy back increase in education research spending after study reveals funding gap compared to health

五月 21, 2024
Exterior of City of London School for Girls at Barbican estate complex in London
Source: iStock/Victor Huang

Education research in UK universities requires a “significant uplift” as it is significantly lagging behind other sectors, a joint report by the British Academy and Royal Society has recommended.

While health research accounts for 1.7 per cent of all spending on public health in Britain, education research represents only 0.05 per cent of funds invested in education, explains the study published on 21 May.

Put differently, that means just £1 in every £2,000 spent on education goes on research, whereas the equivalent sum for £2,000 of health spending is £34.

Overall, universities receive about £55 million annually via the Research Excellence Framework to undertake education research, which, according to the report, was described by a sub-panel for REF 2021 as “a very small amount in the context of annual public spending on education”.

Education research received about £22.7 million in charity and industry donations in 2021-22, the paper adds, comparing this sum with the £1.4 billion received by health research from these sectors in the same year.

“The comparison made to health here is not to suggest that educational research spending should match that in the health sector in absolute terms, nor that one is necessarily more important than the other,” says the report, titled ‘Investing in a 21st century educational research system

“But there is an argument that, as a vital public service, investment in education research should be in line with health research as a proportion of overall health spending,” it continues.

The policy briefing – the culmination of longstanding collaboration between the British Academy and the Royal Society – recommends that “government should increase funding for educational research, bringing it into line with other important public service research funding”.

It also calls on research funders to include more long-term research funding opportunities and support for underrepresented and emerging research themes to provide deeper insight into important questions and into the effectiveness of policy changes.

Noting a lack of longitudinal research, the report observes that two thirds of grants awarded by research councils between 2010 and 2020 were for less than three years.

Ulrike Tillmann, chair of the Royal Society’s education committee, said that “if the UK is to become a science superpower, we need to understand better the long-term effects of education”.

“We can no longer rely solely on short-term evaluation and learning gains – we need forward-thinking research that looks at the enduring impact of education on an individual’s lifelong growth to build a healthier education system that benefits us all,” she added.



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