Leader: Spend on research, not its Byzantine grading

February 1, 2002

The Higher Education Funding Council for England's decision to cut all but 5* research in this year's funding allocations has understandably provoked uproar. Was it for this that so many people worked so long and hard? Hefce had little choice: it is not a free agent. Ministers ordered it to protect the best and declined to produce the cash to pay the rest. The council could and should have seen what was coming and put enough money aside - if necessary forgoing pet projects such as the e-university - but did not. Starting from here, little else could be done, but the result - further selectivity - will put the whole research enterprise at risk: a reasonable volume of milk is required for cream to rise. An elaborate grading exercise where improvement results in cuts cannot command respect.

Research funding will have to be radically rethought. It would probably be better to use such money as there is to fund research direct (with decent overheads) wherever it may be. Tiering institutions by stealth, which is what is happening now, spells death to hope.

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