Brown commits to dual support

July 16, 2004

The much-criticised dual-support system for research funding is here to stay, according to the Treasury's ten-year framework for science announced this week, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Many in the science community argue that having a funding stream for research proposals and another for indirect research costs and infrastructure is putting universities under unsustainable pressure. But the Treasury's framework document says: "The Government remains committed to developing the dual-support system as the organising principle for university research."

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, which administers the indirect research funding using the research assessment exercise, was relieved the Treasury had taken a definite line.

Rama Thirunamachandran, director of research at Hefce, said: "The arguments that have gone on for months were important. But we are pleased that the Government has reiterated that dual support is essential."

But Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society and one of the present system's most outspoken critics, accused the RAE of inhibiting collaboration between departments. He said: "I find it a fascinating example of little Britain that at no stage do we look to other countries that manage things with less oppressive bureaucracy."

The Treasury report stresses that universities must aim to recover the full economic costs of their research. It says the research councils - originally expected to finance about 70 per cent - should aim to cover almost all of the costs by the end of the decade.

Ian Diamond, chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, said the research councils supported this, but added that more money would have to come on stream after 2007-08 when the £80 million had been spent.

Charities expressed relief this week that the framework promised an extra £90 million in Hefce's funding pot to support charitable research.

Diana Garnham, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said: "The Government was very concerned that charities might move their research overseas. I think they've overcome that hurdle."

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, announced in his spending review on Monday that the Wellcome Trust had agreed to invest "£1.5 billion more over five years" in research. But the trust has since said this was not additional to any expected committed spend.

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