Extra cash for Covid-hit PhDs and research culture but QR frozen

Research England makes one-off awards for government priorities but no uplift for recurrent research funding

September 30, 2021
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England’s universities are to receive an extra £30 million to support postgraduate researchers affected by Covid-induced delays and £30 million to improve research culture against the backdrop of a flat-cash settlement for recurrent quality-related (QR) research funding.

The additional cash for priority areas is part of additional one-year grants worth £132 million awarded by Research England for 2021-22, which will also see an extra £41 million devoted to strengthening partnerships with business and charities, it was announced on 30 September.

Another £20 million will be used to top up the Higher Education Innovation Fund, awarded £230 million in this year’s cycle, which supports work to foster links between academia, the economy and society.

The one-off additional monies could be made recurrent in future years pending the outcome of the government’s spending review on 27 October, Research England said.

Meanwhile, recurrent QR funding for 2021-22 is frozen at 2020-21 levels at £1.748 billion, of which £272 million supports doctoral training and £204 million goes to charities, with some £74 million heading to research by industry.

Overall, total QR funding is marginally down in 2021-22 owing to the loss of £63 million in QR funds previously provided by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office under the Global Challenges Research Fund, which was slashed by almost 70 per cent earlier this year as part of cuts of about £4 billion to foreign aid.

The freezing of QR funding is likely to disappoint universities, which enjoyed a £97 million hike in mainstream QR funds last year, following a £45 million increase in 2019 – two increases that were viewed as a useful corrective after almost a decade of minimal increases to QR.

Overall, this year’s Research England budget represented an increase in funding to English universities’ research and knowledge exchange activity of 3.5 per cent for 2021-22, the agency said.

Its executive chair, David Sweeney, said that the funding allocation would “provide stability in a volatile funding landscape” and “ensure our world-class higher education research base has the capacity to continue to partner with civic leaders, business, and public services across challenges and opportunities as we build back better.”

Stressing the importance of working with other sectors – an area where additional funds have been allocated – Mr Sweeney added that the sector “has demonstrated, when we work collaboratively with industry, the public sector, and with one another, we can deliver wider societal and economic benefit for our communities and the country”.

The allocations by Research England were published alongside guidance from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which urges Research England to “continue to progress work” that should “stimulate and foster a diverse, open and productive research culture, recognising all contributions to research including attention to the assessment of local impacts”.

Roughly half of the guidance was, however, was concerned with “impact, research commercialisation and collaboration with business”, which appears to have been reflected in the one-off additional awards to support university-business collaborations.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

“stimulate and foster a diverse, open and productive research culture, recognising all contributions to research including attention to the assessment of local impacts”-absolutely the sensible thing to do not just rely on so called 4* journal publications. To access research culture let’s also add in anonymous surveys of how research staff actually feel about their respective research environments. We do student feedback regularly to improve the student experience so this should be a normal thing to do.

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