Knowledge-transfer scheme fails to ease concern

August 1, 2003

Almost £120 million is being earmarked for universities that are not research intensive to engage in knowledge transfer under plans unveiled this week, writes Alison Goddard.

Under a two-year programme, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is setting aside £102 million for teaching-oriented institutions, with another £16 million for knowledge exchanges - 20 centres of excellence to be located in the same institutions.

The proposal states: "The government sees an important role in knowledge transfer for less research-intensive institutions, less focused on commercialising cutting-edge knowledge and more based on the successful application of knowledge acquired from other sources."

By contrast, £69 million will be channelled through the Higher Education Innovation Fund to world-class research departments carrying out knowledge transfer linked to research.

The move did not placate the Coalition of Modern Universities, which represents more than 30 institutions. Chief executive Colin Matheson, of Westminster University, said the money was peanuts compared with the £1 billion spent on research each year, the lion's share of which goes to research-intensive institutions.

He said: "Compared with what's being given to an elite group, it's a very small amount of money. We are concerned about this idea that knowledge transfer can be done when our ability to do research is being damaged."

The group was also concerned about the definition of "less research intensive". Funding councils were keen to avoid dividing the sector and said they would judge applications to the innovation fund on a qualitative basis.

Officials in the Department for Education and Skills and the Office of Science and Technology said they wanted to spread the money more widely than in the past. The individual payout to each institution - excluding cash for knowledge exchanges - would be limited to £2.4 million, ensuring that at least 70 institutions win funding.

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