Success, past and present

April 9, 2015

I read with interest the letter from Paul Whiteley on the Higher Education Funding Council for England research funding allocations, and offer the following observations (“Funding allocations: a whole lot of nothing”, Letters, 2 April). Whiteley correlates changes in research funding with absolute levels of performance; but changes in research funding should be driven (as indeed they are) by changes in levels of performance. Second, he suggests that “institutions that historically do very well should not face large cuts just because their performance has slipped a bit”. It is difficult to see how perpetual reward for historic rather than current performance will encourage universities to invest for success. Third, he misses Luke Georghiou’s point elsewhere in the issue (“ ‘Grotesque’ flow of QR cash to minnows could sink REF, scholar warns”, News, 2 April) that quality-related funding is driven by volume as well as quality. Universities’ research funding allocations should reflect current staff numbers, not those from 10 years ago.

Sir Roderick Floud adopts an alternative position in a separate letter, arguing that the research excellence framework does not appear to change anything. He may wish to ponder on the comments from universities that have lost money, which indicate that the REF can change things quite a bit. As a university that has had a significant return on a research investment, I for one appreciate that the REF rewards success – and that will change things for us.

Fourth, it is worth a reminder that many of the institutions whose performance has been rewarded are not “smaller” (as described in “ ‘Grotesque’ flow of QR cash to minnows could sink REF, scholar warns”) in either turnover or student numbers.

George Marston
Pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation
Northumbria University

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Reader's comments (1)

Well said! I would add: 1. If anything could endanger the long-term quality of UK research then the adoption of the principle that “institutions that historically do very well should not face large cuts just because their performance has slipped a bit.” This is a recipe for decline, as we know from other areas (e.g. the business world), because it leads to complacency. 2. £1M more does not really make a bid difference in the overall performance of a large research institution (let alone in one that has "slipped a bit"), but could have a big positive impact in a rapidly improving "small" (read post-92) institution.

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