Extra funding will be allocated to a group of leading universities over and above the sums awarded to the best research departments, higher education minister Margaret Hodge said this week.
At a conference in London to discuss proposals for the new research assessment exercise and research funding, Ms Hodge said the government was determined to concentrate research in order to keep it globally competitive.
She told delegates: "We want recognition of the best universities as well as the best departments. They will attract extra funding."
The white paper said the best departments would be identified and awarded a 6* rating, which would get extra funding. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has already awarded an extra £20 million to these departments.
But the white paper also said the best universities, containing "a critical mass of research groups that can compete globally", would receive capital funding.
Ms Hodge told the conference that on a recent trip to China she had been impressed by how the country had focused research in ten institutions while research funding rose 20 per cent a year.
Rama Thirunamachandran, Hefce's director of research and knowledge transfer, told The THES that the government had assigned just £8 million a year for capital in 2004-05 and 2005-06 to top research institutions. He said Hefce would allot this money to six institutions at most for building and equipment costs. It would be in addition to the £450 million SRIF capital funding stream.
Roderick Floud, president of Universities UK, urged universities to make sure their local MPs understood how research concentration would affect their region.
The Hefce board will meet next week to approve proposals for a review of research funding. It will consult with the sector from July, asking how Hefce should identify the top 5* departments; allocate funding for rising 4 departments; decide how to spend the extra £8 million capital funding for leading research institutions; best promote institutional collaborations; and run the promising researcher fellowship scheme with a target of 100 fellows a year by 2005-06.
Meanwhile, technology transfer in UK universities is booming, according to early findings from the annual survey on university technology-transfer activities. The number of patents issued doubled from 2001 to 2002, and income from licensing deals is up by almost 15 per cent to £16 million.
* The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering launched a government-commissioned inquiry into nanotechnology on Wednesday.