'Disappointed' Scots want funding formula revised

Universities and union castigate Government for not rewarding quality research. Zoë Corbyn reports

April 9, 2009

The Scottish Government has "failed to properly reward" research excellence in universities north of the border, academics have said.

Responding to the allocations for 2009-10 announced last week by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the University and College Union Scotland (UCU) said that the Scottish Government needed to "urgently consult" on changes in the funding formula to better reflect the results of the UK-wide research assessment exercise.

The allocations earmark a total of £240.5 million for research, including a £211 million "research excellence grant". That amounts to a £10 million cash increase for quality-related research (QR), compared with the previous year. Although it is a rise of 5 per cent, it is smaller than the 8 per cent QR cash increase awarded to English institutions.

Seven universities suffered funding cuts, with the universities of Stirling and Strathclyde taking the biggest cash hits. Twelve received an increase, with some modern institutions recording big gains.

The UCU said the Scottish Government needed to find £40 million more to fully fund the overall increase in research quality in Scottish universities recorded in the RAE.

Terry Brotherstone, president of UCU Scotland, said: "Scotland's universities have not been rewarded for their efforts in producing excellent research. The Government needs to find additional funding to ensure that such vital research is adequately funded and that our universities do not fall behind."

Tony Axon, research officer at UCU Scotland, said the changes in the research funding formula - the algorithm used to determine how to reward results - had led to wild fluctuations in funding and had been implemented without consultation.

The union called on the SFC to "meet its legislative requirement to consult on its funding before implementing further initiatives".

Elsewhere, the University of Stirling was coming to terms with losing £1.6 million (down 17 per cent). A spokesman said the university was "disappointed" and called the RAE finding "out of date". He said Stirling was still exploring the financial implications but was not currently considering job losses.

According to Neville Richardson - the vice-principal for research at the University of St Andrews, one of those whose research funding was, in effect, frozen - top research universities have been squeezed by the changes made to the RAE since the 2001 exercise. In 2008, departments were given profiles, not summative grades, which allowed pockets of research excellence to be identified.

"We are aware that there has been a massive change in the sector," Professor Richardson said.

David Caldwell, director of Universities Scotland, said that institutions had "fully expected" some fluctuations because it was the first allocations round since RAE 2008. "What is more challenging ... is that the real-terms increase for research in Scotland is lower than in England," he said.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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