Funding fallout creates wide smiles and gnashing of teeth

To the RAE victors, the spoils, but institutions that saw their funding slashed last week in the allocations for 2009-10 are counting the costs. Times Higher Education staff report

March 12, 2009

Stem ring-fence will damage the humanities, says top-ranked institution

London School of Economics

The Government's policy of protecting funding for science subjects is being pursued at the expense of the social sciences, arts and the humanities.

This was the message from the London School of Economics this week, after it suffered a 13 per cent cut in its research funding for 2009-10.

The LSE achieved the highest percentage of "world leading" (4*) research - the top ranking available - of any institution, other than the Institute of Cancer Research, in the 2008 research assessment exercise, which saw it ranked the fourth-best university in the UK in Times Higher Education's Table of Excellence last December.

Despite this success, its research funding fell by £2.5 million. In a statement, the LSE said it was "very disappointed" by the outcome.

"The LSE is a victim of the Higher Education Funding Council for England's funding formula, which implements government policy to protect STEM subjects (science including medicine, technology, engineering and maths) at the expense of social sciences, arts and humanities," it said.

"In the non-STEM areas, faculty and student numbers have grown more rapidly, and the potential for small pockets of research excellence is greater.

"The inevitable result of ring-fencing the percentage allocation of research funding directed towards the STEM subjects is therefore a relative dilution of support available to high- quality research in non-STEM areas."

The results meant that the LSE would become increasingly reliant on alternative funding sources to sustain its international research reputation, it added.

A 'short-sighted' decision

University of the Arts London

Growth in the creative industries could be crippled by the research assessment exercise's funding allocations, a senior academic at the University of the Arts London has warned.

Keith Bardon, pro rector for research and enterprise, said that the reduction of the university's 2009-10 research grant by 35 per cent, from £9.7 million to £6.2 million, contra-dicted the Government's claims that it was championing the UK's creative industries.

The university was placed 44th in Times Higher Education's Table of Excellence after the 2008 RAE results with 24 per cent of its sub-mitted research rated "world leading" (4*).

Professor Bardon said: "Creative industry businesses tend to be smaller and more reliant on the university's support to grow.

"The slashing of research funding will have a negative effect on the businesses we work with, as we will be less able to help them push the boundaries of what is possible." He said the funding decisions were "short-sighted" and that the university's knowledge-transfer projects could suffer as a result.

"It seems more than a little strange that the Government claims to support the creative industries sector, which contributes £60 billion a year to the economy, while undermining the research wing of Europe's largest specialist arts university and a major contributor to that sector," he said.

From zero to hero as teaching-intensive university's strategy reaps rewards

University of Lincoln

The story of the University of Lincoln's research assessment exercise is one of rags to riches.

It received the most cash out of the 25 teaching-intensive institutions that won mainstream quality-related (QR) research funding for the first time.

Its slice of the cake has grown from zero to £1.6 million, after it entered 35 per cent of eligible staff to the 2008 RAE.

In the 2001 exercise it submitted 21 per cent of staff, but no department was rated higher than the old grading of 3a (largely nationally excellent research). As a result, it went away empty-handed when the funding was allocated.

Mike Saks, senior pro vice-chancellor at Lincoln, said that in the intervening years, the university had decided to invest more in research, and had used the small amount of money it could muster "incredibly strategically".

Its strategy, he said, included recruiting about 50 top-flight professors and opening 20 research centres. It also ensured it got plenty of feedback from external experts as it prepared its submission to the 2008 RAE.

Having secured the funding in last week's allocations, Lincoln said it would plough the money back into research, as a strong research element would complement its teaching strengths.

"It is not the finished article but we have got a platform," Professor Saks said. He expressed an interest in collaborating with large research-intensive universities, an approach teaching-led institutions with pockets of research excellence were being encouraged to take by the Government.

But he said that any collaboration would have to be on terms that enabled excellent research to thrive in Lincoln, not just its established partners.

'We're delighted,' says sector's biggest winner

University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham was a big winner in the allocations, scooping a larger increase in research funding than any other institution.

Its research grant rose by £9.6 million compared with the previous year, a 23.6 per cent uplift. Its total recurrent grant increased by 9.6 per cent.

Bob Webb, pro vice-chancellor for research at Nottingham, said its policy of investing in quality and quantity had paid off.

"Our focus has been on improving quality of research, but also increasing our critical mass. Underpinning that is the significant investment we've made over the last RAE period in our campuses in the UK and overseas," he said.

"That investment in infrastructure has allowed us to attract very good-quality researchers, but we've also been growing our own."

He said the philosophy of investing in the university's core subjects had led to success in inter-disciplinary research, too.

Nottingham's success was particularly welcome given less satisfactory settlements elsewhere in the Russell Group.

Professor Webb said: "One never takes things for granted. I wouldn't say we were worried, but you don't spend the money until you've got it. We're delighted, because having more money will allow us to do more."

Disappointed but 'proceeding calmly' after news of cuts

University of Reading

The University of Reading suffered a 19 per cent cut to its research funding, receiving £4 million less than its allocation of £22 million in 2007-08.

It expressed disappointment that the funding model used by the Higher Education Funding Council for England meant that many of its best-performing research departments have missed out.

"The impact of the reduction in research funding may be significant but will not be threatening - it is a relatively small proportion of our annual income," it said.

"However, like every other organisation, we are also faced with increasing costs in areas such as pensions, salaries and energy.

"As ever, we will proceed calmly in reviewing our activity, based on our Corporate Plan."

Reading said there would be a period of restructuring, but reassured staff that no decisions had been made to close departments.

A 'true reflection' of research strength

Brunel University

Brunel University submitted 87 per cent of its eligible staff to the research assessment exercise, with a fifth of its submission coming from early-career researchers.

This decision to include such a broad range of research resulted in Brunel's Grade Point Average (GPA) dropping from the level it secured in 2001.

But in the league table illustrating market share, which is calculated by multiplying the number of staff submitted to each unit of assessment by its GPA, it jumped more than ten places to 37th.

A spokesman for Brunel said that the university felt this inclusive approach would ensure that the RAE results were a true reflection of the institution's research strengths.

The strategy paid off, as Brunel's funding in last week's research allocations for 2009-10 rose by 54.5 per cent against a sector average of about 8 per cent.

Chris Jenks, vice-chancellor at Brunel, said: "Our vision is to be a world-class research-intensive university and our strategy was to be inclusive and sustainable by bringing together our experienced and early-career researchers.

"The result is increased market share and funding - both testament to the quality, breadth and depth of our research."

He added that the funding allocation, unlike the GPA score, was a "true measure of a university's standing".

Some of the extra money Brunel received would be used to fully fund 30 PhD places, as the university bolstered investment in its research infrastructure and capacity.

'Significant mismatch' between kudos and cash, research institute says

Institute of Cancer Research

Peter Rigby, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, was "intensely disappointed and puzzled" by the decision to cut his institution's research funding by more than 10 per cent.

When the results of the research assessment exercise were published in December, the institute topped Times Higher Education's Table of Excellence.

Professor Rigby said there seemed to be "a significant mismatch" between his institution's RAE results and the funding it had been allocated.

"This is particularly acute given the Higher Education Funding Council for England's declared policy of rewarding excellence wherever it is found, and the Government's clear policy to support science.

"We only do science and what we do is highly beneficial both to the economy and to people's health. If the situation stays as it is today, the outcome is that we end up doing 10 per cent less world-leading cancer research. I find it hard to imagine that is what they wanted to achieve," he said.

The institute submitted "essentially all" eligible staff to the RAE, Professor Rigby noted, and volume was up 10 per cent on the 2001 exercise.

"The funding is allocated formulaically, according to an algorithm ... (it) got the wrong answer," he said.

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