'Gang of four' run away with research lead

January 2, 2004

A “gang of four” super-elite UK universities is exerting an ever-tightening stranglehold on research, according to an exclusive analysis for The THES .

Imperial College London tops the group with a total research income of £153 million in 2001-02. It is followed by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and University College London, each earning about £150 million. The next nearest competitor is King’s College London, which had just 60 per cent of the amount earned by Imperial.

The total research income for the top four institutions exceeded £600 million in 2001-02, and amounts to a quarter of that earned by all higher education institutions, according to analysis by Leeds-based company Evidence.

The analysis reveals that the government’s policy of further concentrating research funding to create a small tier of universities with the muscle to take on the best from overseas is already being realised.

A spokesperson for Cambridge said: “We welcome research concentration because it is the only way we can compete internationally.”

While the likes of Imperial are big fish in the UK pond, they are minnows compared with the leading US institution, Johns Hopkins University, which boasted just under $1 billion (£566 million) in 2001.

The UK’s big four would scrape into the top 40 research-rich US institutions. And, in terms of concentration, there are similarities to the US, where just seven institutions rake in more than $500 million (£280 million) each, significantly more than their nearest rivals.

The UK figures, based on data held by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, show that national spend on university research grew 43 per cent over the past five years and by more than 10 per cent in 2001-02, the last year for which figures were available.

Concentration is so great in the sciences that Russell Group institutions, including the big four, claim so much of the spoils that new universities are in effect relegated to competing for research money in social sciences and the arts.

The company has analysed each university’s research income for the years to July 31 2002. The research totals include money from research councils, other public bodies, industry, charity, European Union and other overseas sources.

Jonathan Adams, founder of Evidence, said: “Imperial has got its act together, and it’s delivering a heck of a lot. One of the things that is clear is the breakaway of the big four. By the time that you get down to the group below it, the individual incomes are half the size.”

All the top ten derive a substantial proportion of their income from their medical schools. The leading four have also invested in research infrastructure for many decades, attracting large and prestigious departments that then lever more cash from research sponsors.

Concentration becomes more apparent when research income is broken down by subject. In areas such as medicine, biological science, physical science and engineering, most universities, particularly new universities, barely get a look in.

Institutions with large medical schools dominate the most lucrative category of clinical medicine and dentistry. UCL tops this table with £80 million, 11 per cent of the national research spend in these subjects. The five institutions with the most research income in this area share almost half the national spend.

Only in new areas such as social sciences and the arts do other institutions feature. In social sciences, the London School of Economics tops the table, with £11 million, 6 per cent of the national research spend on social science.

In the visual and performing arts, the table is led by the London Institute with £954,000, some 6.5 per cent of the national spend on the visual and performing arts. It is followed by the Royal College of Art, the universities of Leeds and Wales, Aberystwyth, and Royal Holloway, University of London.

TOP-TEN RESEARCH-RICH INSTITUTIONS  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth  Imperial College London £153 6.5% 28%  University of Oxford £150 13% 31%  University of Cambridge £149 19% 49%  University College London £148 25% 26%  King’s College London £91.4 29% 18%  University of Edinburgh £87.8 33% 48%  University of Manchester £77.1 36% 44%  University of Glasgow £76.4 40% 58%  University of Leeds £71.1 43% 46%  University of Southampton £70.4 45% 53%
Source: Evidence


TOP FIVE RICHEST RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS BY SUBJECT AREA

Clinical medicine and dentistry  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 University College London

£80

11%

22%

 Imperial College London

£78

22%

32%

 University of Oxford

£61

31%

34%

 King’s College London

£58

39%

12%

 University of Cambridge

£44

46%

71%

Biological sciences  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 University of Cambridge

£29

7.0%

42%

 University of Oxford

£

14%

15%

 Imperial College London

£26

20%

49%

 University of Edinburgh

£25

26%

45%

 University of Glasgow

£24

32%

56%

Physical sciences and mathematics  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 University of Cambridge

£36

8.9%

35%

 University of Southampton

£23

14%

91%

 University of Oxford

£22

20%

24%

 Imperial College London

£22

25%

15%

 University College London

£19

30%

41%

Engineering and technology  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 Imperial College London

£26

6.8%

13%

 University of Cambridge

£23

13%

60%

 University of Southampton

£21

18%

47%

 University of Nottingham

£17

22%

65%

 University of Sheffield

£17

%

30%

Subjects allied to medicine and health  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 University College London

£23

12%

64%

 King’s College London

£16

21%

41%

 University of Oxford

£14

28%

11%

 University of Cambridge

£8.3

32%

25%

 University of Liverpool

£7.1

36%

17%

Social sciences  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 London School of
 Economics

£11

6.0%

38%

 University of Oxford

£7.3

9.8%

132%

 University of Warwick

£7.2

14%

7%

 University of York

£6.9

17%

31%

 University of Durham

£6.3

21%

70%

Humanities  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 University of Glasgow

£3.7

8.1%

295%

 University of Oxford

£3.6

16%

164%

 University of Cambridge

£2.6

22%

33%

 University of Birmingham

£2.0

26%

31%

 University of Sheffield

£1.9

30%

91%

Visual and performing arts  Institution Research income
(millions) Cumulative percentage 
of total Five-year growth

 London Institute

£954,000

9.4%

105%

 Royal College of Art

£940,000

18%

5%

 University of Leeds

£877,000

%

55%

 University of Wales, Aberystwyth

£507,000

32%

77%

 Royal Holloway, University
 of London

£418,000

37%

243%

Source: Evidence

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