Source: University of Essex
The “grotesque” amount of extra quality-related research funding flowing to some smaller institutions poses a risk to research quality and the future of the research excellence framework, an academic has claimed.
Paul Whiteley, professor of government at the University of Essex, made the remarks after last week’s announcement by the Higher Education Funding Council for England of the first QR allocations to be based on the results of the 2014 REF.
These included some very significant gains well in excess of 100 per cent by smaller institutions, while funding at some prestigious universities will decline, especially without extra “transitional” research funding earmarked for this year only. These include the University of Manchester (set to fall by 17 per cent) and Imperial College London (5 per cent).
In a letter to Times Higher Education, Professor Whiteley notes a negative correlation between post-transitional funding changes and institutions’ grade point average in the REF – including THE’s intensity-weighted GPA, which takes into account proportions of eligible staff submitted. The QR funding formula is based on each institution’s volume of 3* and 4* research, but, despite the volume element, Professor Whiteley said that he would still expect a positive correlation between intensity-weighted GPA – which he took as the best proxy for quality – and funding changes.
“My argument is not that institutions which have improved should not get rewarded, but that quite a few of the increases given to institutions with a weak history of research are grotesque,” he told THE. He said that changes in funding levels should be indexed to an institution’s absolute level of performance as well as to changes since 2008 as it would damage the overall quality of UK research if teams in top institutions broke up because their funding was diverted into “some ex-college where some people are good but a lot of people might waste it”.
Professor Whiteley also warned that if an incoming government picked up on the “perverse” allocations, it might well conclude that the REF was an expensive “lemon” that could be replaced with metrics.
Luke Georghiou, vice-president for research and innovation at Manchester, said that half his institution’s “disappointing” funding drop was due to its reduction in eligible staff numbers as the effects of its 2004 merger played out. But the institution had submitted the same proportion of eligible staff (78 per cent) in 2014 as in 2008. Higher rates recorded by some universities were due to their inclusion of “large numbers” of research-only staff.
The University of Leeds will lose nearly 9 per cent of its research allocation post-transition. However, David Hogg, pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation, said that Hefce had been “fair-minded” given the REF results, its commitment to supporting excellence everywhere and the constraints on its funding.
Steve Rothberg, pro vice-chancellor for research at Loughborough University, which will lose 14 per cent of its allocation, was less convinced. “Our funding for engineering has taken a hit and if you look at the other funding losers we can’t help feeling concern about the effect of Hefce’s funding algorithm on this important area,” he said.