Elite powers of concentration

Great news for Russell Group but bad tidings for its mission group competitors. Paul Jump reports

March 29, 2012

Research funding in England will be further concentrated in large research-intensive universities because of a redistribution of Higher Education Funding Council for England cash.

Figures show that the overall quality-related (QR) funding received by English members of the Russell Group will rise by 1.5 per cent in 2012-13. This compares with a fall of nearly 11 per cent for the Million+ group of post-1992 universities and of nearly 16 per cent for the GuildHE group of small, specialist institutions.

The total budget for QR research funding will remain steady at nearly £1.6 billion, but the proportion that goes to Russell Group members will increase from 70.2 per cent to 71.3 per cent.

The allocations of all the other mission groups will fall.

The figures reflect changes to the QR funding formula in response to the government's instruction that Hefce should finance research on the basis of international excellence alone.

Funding chiefs have now removed all funding previously allocated on the basis of 2* research: QR income will now be determined solely on the basis of 3* and 4* research - with 4* continuing to count for three times as much as 3*.

The £35 million freed by the change has been transferred to Hefce's QR Research Degree Programme (RDP), which subsidises the supervision of research postgraduates.

This money, which will amount to £240 million in 2012-13, is currently allocated on the basis of student numbers.

However, next year the formula will also take into account each unit of assessment's ratio of 3* and 4* research to the total of all its work rated 2* and above.

Critics of the modified formula argue that the quality of research output is unrelated to the quality of postgraduate supervision, but the new arrangements will result in a 23 per cent increase in the Russell Group's total RDP funding.

Meanwhile, in terms of overall QR money, the allocations of the 18 GuildHE members listed in the figures will fall by at least 7 per cent, with one losing 100 per cent.

Only two out of the 23 English Million+ institutions will benefit from rises, while even in the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, only three of its 14 English members will receive more QR income.

The biggest loser among mainstream universities is the University of Cumbria, which will lose 88 per cent of its RDP funding and 47 per cent of its QR budget overall.

By contrast, the overall QR allocations of 15 out of the 20 English Russell Group members will increase.

The largest amount of QR funding - £132 million - will go to the University of Oxford, a 2 per cent rise on last year.


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