All research judged to be "internationally recognised" or better in the 2008 research assessment exercise will receive public funding, wherever it is found and in whatever discipline, funding chiefs have confirmed.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England this week outlined how it will convert the results of last month's RAE into cash allocations to universities under its quality-related (QR) funding stream.
Hefce said that "world leading" (4*) research will be funded at a rate seven times higher than "internationally recognised" work (2*). "Internationally excellent" (3*) research will be funded at three times the rate of 2* scholarship.
There will be no funding for "nationally recognised" (1*) work and that judged to be "unclassified".
The RAE found that world-leading and internationally excellent research was more widely distributed than previously thought. The results led to fears among the large research-intensive universities that they will lose funding when individual allocations are confirmed in March, as the total pot is spread more thinly throughout the sector.
Hefce said the total QR allocation for 2009-10 will be £1.572 billion, a rise compared with 2008-09's £1.436 billion. The funding council has also set aside an extra £20 million to help ameliorate big drops in funding at individual institutions.
But while the cash is likely to be more widely spread, the potential blow to the research elite appears to have been softened by Hefce's statement that it will ring-fence the proportion of funding currently flowing to science, engineering, medicine and mathematics.
"In terms of funding for 2009-10, the Hefce board has decided (to) safeguard the share of mainstream QR grant allocated for research in (these science subjects), adjusting the allocations for other disciplines accordingly," it said.
David Sweeney, director of research at Hefce, said the approach, which will slightly increase the amount science receives at the expense of other disciplines, bore out instructions from the Government.
"(We have) done this because government policy is to support science ... and we have implemented that," he said. "We have gone for an open and transparent way of calculating the funding that represents best the results of the RAE."
The extra cash for science is likely to worry institutions that specialise in arts, humanities and social sciences, as well as the teaching-intensive former polytechnics, many of whose pockets of excellence were in non-science areas.
Don't miss Times Higher Education on 5 March for the 2009-10 university funding allocations, published on the day they are released.