Clinical science hit by huge cuts

March 21, 2003

Top-rated medical research in England will face cuts in the coming year despite reassurance that funding will be restored to departments rated 5 as well as 5*, writes Alison Goddard.

Clinical laboratory science and hospital-based clinical subjects face real-terms cuts of more than 10 per cent for departments rated 5 and 5*.

Those rated 4 face a 50 per cent drop in funding. More than a quarter of entries in these subjects to the 2001 research assessment exercise gained a 5* rating, and two-thirds gained a 5 or 5*.

On average, research funding for departments rated as internationally excellent (grade 5 or 5*) will be restored in real terms to the same level as two years ago, the Higher Education Funding Council for England decided a fortnight ago. It added that funding for those rated as nationally excellent throughout (grade 4) should be cut by 38 per cent.

But the figures hide huge variations across subjects. Those with a high proportion of high-flying departments will see funding cut, while those with less excellence will see funding rise.

Music, education and economics are buoyant. Research funding for departments rated 5 and 5* in music will increase by almost a third.

Departments rated 4 face a cut of 25 per cent, compared with the average 38 per cent.

Clinical dentistry will see an improvement. While research funding will still fall across the board, its standing relative to other subjects will improve. It had been third worst off last year; next year, it will be in 18th place.

UNBALANCING THE BOOKS

* The biosciences department at the University of Kent at Canterbury is facing possible job losses and an uncertain future in the wake of funding cuts to 4-rated departments.

The head of the department, Peter Jeffries, told The THES the biosciences department would find it difficult to survive.

"Whether we lose staff depends on whether the university can support a negative cash balance," he said.

Professor Jeffries had been anticipating some cuts in the funds promised to 4-rated departments. But he said the 42 per cent cut was far beyond his worst fears.

For the biosciences department, this translates as a shortfall of about £400,000 a year.

* Manchester University's faculty of medicine, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy is using its overall RAE cash increases to compensate for funding cuts to its 4-rated research areas.

The dean of the faculty, David Gordon, said the cut in funding for its 4-rated clinical laboratory sciences and dentistry research was more than balanced by rises for community and hospital-based subjects.

Professor Gordon said his faculty chose not to bank on any informal indication that the 4-rated research areas might be fully funded.

Professor Gordon said he was reluctant to make long-term plans for his faculty's RAE funding in case the rules changed next year.

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