Funding for medical schools is slashed

October 24, 1997

MILLIONS of pounds have been cut from the budgets of several medical schools that failed to score top grades or make significant improvements in last year's research assessment exercise.

They now face making huge staff cuts that some say are bound to affect patient care.

The united medical and dental schools of Guys and St Thomas' Hospitals (UMDS) in London is thought to be the biggest RAE loser, forced to cut about Pounds 3 million and 75 clinical, academic and administrative posts, to meet a 10 per cent drop in funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The schools' RAE performance last year was no better than in 1992.

St George's, in London, is down between Pounds 1.3 and Pounds 1.5 million a year, partly as a result of the RAE, and has agreed a staff reduction programme. Manchester University medical school is down more than Pounds 1 million, and Queen's University, Belfast, has lost Pounds 800,000 a year. Leeds and Newcastle have also had cuts.

Other medical schools that gained top grades in the RAE or improved from low scores in 1992 have gained significantly in financial terms.

Cyril Chandler, principal of UMDS, said the school had scored a 5*, three 4s and a 3b in the RAE, not dissimilar to 1992.

"The effect of that judgement when translated into money has been extraordinary," he said. "3/4/5 is hardly a bad performance, but because of the way the formula works, it has led to us losing 10 per cent of our HEFCE income. The effects of the RAE and the way it has been translated into funding, plus other changes, including a reduction in the research multiplier for pre-clinical medicine, have produced this funding result."

UMDS is particularly hard hit because, unlike multi-faculty universities, there is no income from other subjects to cushion the loss.

Professor Chandler said: "The big gainers were postgraduate schools. In undergraduate schools staff have major duties looking after patients and teaching undergraduates. But postgraduate institutes do not have the same responsibilities for teaching, enabling them to devote more time to research.

"These institutes and undergraduate medical schools are not comparable, but their research is being compared in the RAE."

Professor Chandler said research with a strong laboratory base appeared to score highest in the RAE. He feared the development of a system where hospitals looked after health service research, and HEFCE moved towards basic science, leaving a gap in the middle and no support for clinical research. "The Association of Medical Research Charities gives us a lot of money in this area but they will not give us overheads. The dual funding system is beginning to break here."

A HEFCE spokesperson said that across all subjects, the scores and the volume of research had increased between the 1992 and 1996 RAEs.

"If the grade and volume of research had not increase significantly it is likely funding would have declined," the spokesperson said. "It has been particularly significant in medicine because of single faculty institutions and also because the amount of money is very large due to the volume of research involved. We are aware of this problem in medicine and we are helping institutions handle the changes by implementing them over three years."

See pages 12 and 19

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