Cash is lavished on RAE giants

January 23, 2003

Key points

  • Extra £1.25 billion for research by 2005-06

  • Research to be concentrated in top universities

  • New RAE rating for top research departments

  • PhD funding criteria to encourage concentration

  • Emerging departments required to show potential to qualify for funding
  • New Arts and Humanities Research Council

The government plans to identify a handful of elite universities that will receive extra funding to allow them to concentrate on research.

They will be awarded a new 6* research assessment exercise rating for departments that score 5* and had a critical mass of researchers in the 2001 RAE.

Non-research intensive universities will be encouraged to give up research to concentrate on teaching, business links and widening participation, areas in which they could also be recognised as eminent.

The government acknowledges UK research as a world leader. It often quotes the fact that the UK, with just 1 per cent of the world’s population, has an 8 per cent share of scientific publications.

However, while the UK is second only to the US in research, the government fears that nations such as China and India are catching up. It says that successful nations focus their research in relatively few institutions and that the UK must do this to compete.

With the science budget set to rise by £1.25 billion by 2005-06, the white paper says the organisation of research must be reviewed to ensure the increases reach the top researchers and most effective research institutions. The extra money will be used to ensure research is fully funded and not cross-subsidised by other activities.

In return, universities will need to show they are operating sustainable research businesses that recover the full economic costs of research. In a nod to the research charities and industry, the paper says, “other research funders will also need to play their part.”

At present, 75 per cent of Higher Education Funding Council for England research funding goes to just 25 institutions. Research council funding follows a similar pattern. There are a further 52 institutions with 5 and 5* departments.

The government said it would focus the RAE funding on the top research-intensive universities. It also pledged to protect isolated high-quality research departments in other institutions and to encourage emerging areas of research.

The paper goes on to say that teaching and research are not inextricably linked, and that the scale and location of research must be justified separately. “The time has come to look carefully at the relationship between research and teaching. In reality, the connection between an institution’s research activities and its teaching is indirect and there is ample evidence of the highest quality teaching being achieved in circumstances which are not research intensive.”

Research concentration and collaboration will be key. Not only will it bring economies of scale and free more unallocated funding for speculative research, it will also serve to share ideas, promote emerging areas, share resources for managing intellectual property and ensure funding is available for isolated pockets of research.

Such collaboration, where appropriate, will not follow a specific blueprint, but is expected to emerge from the sector. Hefce and the Office of Science and Technology will pump prime collaborations where concentrated and better managed research add value in terms of quality of research or graduate training.

Suggested models would be:   graduate schools; links between departments in research-intensive and non-intensive universities in large cities or other collaborations; regional research collaborations such as the White Rose consortium, encompassing Leeds, Sheffield and York; and clusters of research units, including universities, government laboratories, research council laboratories and charities.

The next RAE is set for 2008 when the recommendations of   Sir Gareth Roberts’ review will be implemented. But the white paper says the funding council and an international peer review panel will award 6* ratings to the best 5* departments with a critical mass of researchers. These will get extra funding over the next three years.

The paper says the new system must be fully funded from the resources available, but it makes no reference to how this would affect lower-rated departments.

Regular reassessments, it says, would allow other institutions to become leaders and prevent those that could not maintain their status living off their reputations.

Emerging research departments with lower ratings will be assessed separately by Hefce for their potential to progress. Funding will be provided from 2003 for these, as well as for emerging areas of research.

The paper recognises the social and cultural benefits from arts research. The Arts and Humanities Research Board will become a research council by 2005. Postgraduate degree-awarding powers may be limited to successful research consortia, leading to fewer   but larger graduate schools.

Funding will depend on institutions meeting criteria on standards, supervision and training in transferable skills. Institutions wishing to fund research degrees from their own resources will still be able to do so.

Universities, particularly those that are research-intensive, will be encouraged to promote more research-only posts to free the best researchers.

Support for junior research staff must be part of personnel strategies, including training and career development. Mechanisms for funding and quality assessment must not “inadvertently reinforce particular models for managing research staff”, says the paper.

A new project, the Promising Researcher Fellowship Scheme, will fund talented researchers from departments rated 4 or below to work for six months in a high-scoring department. Up to 100 fellowships, worth up to £50,000 each, should be funded by 2004.

The paper says higher research budgets will be subject to improved leadership, management and governance, and will depend heavily on the recommendations of the Lambert review.

Between the Department for Education and Skills and the OST, a total of £2.6 billion will be spent on research in 2005-06, a 38 per cent increase compared with this year.

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