Exclusive: £1.25bn equals 'no excuses'

July 19, 2002

Universities have no excuse for getting into financial difficulties over research after this week's spending review, science and innovation minister Lord Sainsbury has said.

Lord Sainsbury told The THES that the £1.25 billion spending review settlement for science was sufficient to ensure that any financial shortfalls would be the responsibility of individual universities.

He said: "The cross-cutting review of science showed that science was being underfunded. (The universities) were unaware of the cost judgements of the contracts.

"Now we have given them more funding. In return, universities must make sure they have these costing systems in place.

"There is no excuse for universities to get into financial problems. If they do, it is because those systems are not there."

The spending review increased maximum PhD stipends to more than £13,000 and postdoctoral salaries by £4,000. Lord Sainsbury said the money would allow universities to reduce reliance on fixed-term contracts for staff. He said the government was on track to meet the Roberts report recommendations on the UK's supply of scientists. Details will be published in the forthcoming government science strategy.

Lord Sainsbury said that the dedicated capital funding stream, worth £500 million a year by 2005-06, would more than cover capital requirements.

The Department for Education and Skills will have an extra £244 million for recurrent spending on research by 2005-06. This is expected to allow the full funding of the research assessment exercise from 2003 to 2006.

Lord Sainsbury's comments sparked union calls for universities to use money from their reserves to prevent redundancies due in the autumn because of the failure to fully fund last year's RAE.

The Association of University Teachers estimates that at least 2,000 research jobs could be lost next year, before the spending review cash comes on stream.

A spokesman said: "We see no reason why (universities) can't use reserves or other funding pots to tide them over next year."

There was no news on general higher education funding in the review, and many universities are pressing ahead with plans for higher student tuition fees.

Details of the general higher education settlement will become apparent only after the government has completed its review of student support, which it will roll into a white paper due in autumn.

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