Further concentration of government research funds in top universities will damage Britain's research base, a Royal Society working group has warned.
In a report sent to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the experts state that middle-ranking departments make an important contribution to the nation's research effort.
At present, departments rated above 2 are funded, but just a fortnight ago, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council warned that from 2002, its priority would be to safeguard funding levels of those rated 4, 5 and 5-starred. This is because the anticipated improvements in research quality will lead to greater demands on the available money.
However, the conclusions of the working group, which included Peter Scott, vice-chancellor of Kingston University, and Sir Christopher Llewellyn-Smith, president and provost of University College London, suggest this could be a mistake.
They agreed that middle-ranked science departments must be supported even in the face of competition from universities carrying out work of international importance.
John Enderby, vice-president of the Royal Society and chairman of the working group that prepared the report, said their contribution of dynamism and diversity helped maintain the vitality of UK university research.
"Not all of the most important scientific and technological discoveries are made at the traditional research universities," he said.
The report also backed proposals that Hefce funding for training PhD students should be dependent on departments reaching a minimum standard.
Those that have difficulties reaching the required level could form collaborations between departments or develop research training consortia.