Analysis: Grants to research elite on the slide

March 2, 2001

Three of the top four research institutions will receive less in next year's funding allocations from Hefce. Alison Goddard reports.

The leading research universities will get less grant money next year, funding chiefs announced today.

This will increase pressure on the government to find more money for university research, particularly as the coming research assessment exercise is expected to show a rise in overall performance. Unless more is provided, universities that maintain an excellent research record will end up with less cash.

Three of the four institutions that each receive more than £50 million a year in a block grant for research - Oxford University, University College London and Imperial College, London - will get less money from the funding council in real terms. The grant of the fourth, Cambridge University, will remain static.

The three have been penalised because they have fallen behind the rest of the sector in supervising more postgraduate research students, the Higher Education Funding Council for England said. The council concentrates funding for research in the institutions where the quality of research is highest. Almost a third of the total block grant for research goes to the top four institutions, and half to the top ten. The other half of the research grant is shared among 122 institutions.

Universities, colleges and other stakeholders such as professional bodies, trade unions, industry and private funders would like to keep but not increase this selectivity, a funding council consultation concluded last year.

At last month's Hefce meeting, the board decided to continue the rate of funding for departments that gain the top ranks - grade 5 and 5* - after the 2001 RAE. It also agreed that middle-ranking departments - grade 3a and 3b - would still receive funding. If resources are limited, the priority will be to protect departments rated 5 and 5*, the board decided.

The leading research institutions are among 40 universities, higher education colleges and specialist institutions whose funding will stay level or fall in real terms. Real-terms gains will be recorded by 92 others. Today's figures also cover funding for higher education in 220 further education colleges. Overall, higher education will receive a 4.1 per cent funding increase in cash terms, representing an increase of 1.6 per cent after inflation.

Despite the blow to those institutions whose research block grant tops £50 million, research-led universities and The Open University still dominate the rich list. Ten institutions will each receive a block grant of more than £100 million. The Open University tops the list with a £138 million grant for teaching and research. It is followed by the Oxford and Cambridge, UCL, Imperial College, the universities of Leeds and Manchester, and King's College London.

Ten institutions will receive more than £50 million each for teaching. The Open University again tops the table, with more than £130 million, followed by Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan, Manchester and Birmingham universities, King's College London, UCL, Oxford, Cambridge and De Montfort University.

Proportionally, smaller institutions fared best in the allocations. Eight institutions will get rises of more than 10 per cent in cash terms. Canterbury Christ Church University College's grant grew by 14.7 per cent in cash terms because of its new Thanet campus. Other big winners included Chester College of Higher Education, the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, Harper Adams University College, the Institute of Cancer Research, Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, Cumbria College of Art and Design, and the Arts Institute at Bournemouth.

Details of funding for extra student places for the year beginning in September 2001 were revealed. As happened last year, the lion's share will go to the Russell Group universities.

After The Open University, the universities of Nottingham, Leeds and Southampton are expected to recruit the most additional students. Each has more than £2.5 million for extra provision, though Leeds and Southampton will have money withheld for failing to meet last year's recruitment targets for extra students.

In his annual letter to the funding council last November, education secretary David Blunkett told Hefce to give priority in allocating the extra places to high-quality part-time provision, places for mature students and sub-degree qualifications, particularly at the level of foundation degree.

Ninety-three institutions have been offered extra money for additional student places. Thirty-nine others, some of which may not have bid for extra places, received no funds for expansion.

The University of Sunderland remained top of the table for attracting students from neighbourhoods that are under-represented in higher education. It received more money from the widening participation premium per full-time home undergraduate than any other institution with more than 1,000 students.

Also doing well on this measure were Salford, Teesside, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Central Lancashire, Bradford, Lincolnshire and Humberside and Staffordshire universities and London Guildhall University and Bolton Institute of Higher Education.

Ten institutions were saved from harsh funding cuts by the funding council's pledge to maintain stability. Hefce has said it will ensure that no institution receives an overall funding cut of more than 2 per cent in real terms.

This year, it had to intervene at Sunderland, South Bank, University College Northampton, Bolton Institute of Higher Education, Nottingham Trent, Luton, De Montfort, East London, and Lincolnshire and Humberside and the London School of Economics. Nine of the ten were due to face penalties for under-recruitment.

As they say, allocation is everything

The Higher Education Funding Council for England today announced the allocation of £3.1 billion for teaching and £888 million for research, for the year beginning in September. The announcement also included £67 million for special initiatives.

Of the teaching funding, £36 million will be spent on additional funded students in response to the most recent round of bids, £24 million on additional funded students in response to earlier bids, £7 million for more medical students, and £36 million to widen participation.

The teaching grant that each institution receives is weighted for the number of students, and premiums are awarded for other student, subject and grant factors. The higher costs of teaching laboratory-based subjects are recognised, and specialist institutions, small institutions and those based in London receive a higher grant.

Of the research funding, £868 million will be distributed according to the results of the most recent research assessment exercise and the number of research-active staff.

The grant is weighted so that laboratory and clinical subjects get more than less costly research fields. Institutions also receive funds for supervising research students.

Some £20 million will go towards generic research activity, which recognises collaborative research with no single beneficiary.

The government has yet to announce the allocation of £320 million in special funding, £240 million for capital funding and £80 million for rewarding and developing staff.

» Statistics section: Funding allocations

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