The inability of some universities to support research (Leader, THES , February 22) is partly a consequence of the "one-size-fits-all" policies of the research councils.
Projects funded by these councils receive 46 per cent of staff costs as a contribution to indirect costs. This proportion, well below the real costs of providing a "well-found" laboratory, is a flat rate agreed when funding councils transferred some responsibilities to the research councils. A flat rate was justifiable as long as the funding councils continued to pay for the wherewithal to carry out basic research. This is no longer the case for departments with low research assessment exercise grades.
Research councils should consider increasing their indirect cost rate for projects in such departments while reducing it for highly rated departments, whose indirect costs are covered. A small reduction should be sufficient to allow worthy projects carried out in low-rated departments, which have satisfied stringent peer review, to receive a realistic level of indirect costs, up to 100 per cent or more.
This change would be cost-neutral to research councils. Most already ask applicants to state their RAE grade; it should not be difficult to implement. It would protect and encourage excellent research in departments and institutions that otherwise could not afford it.
Vice-principal, science and engineering
Queen Mary, University of London