Universities have secured almost Pounds 80 million for new state-of the-art research equipment thanks to the success of a public/private initiative, though this is far less than the Pounds 474 million shortfall over the next five years identified last year by Sir Ron Dearing.
Some 250 projects at 55 institutions are to receive funding for equipment from the 1997 Joint Research Equipment Initiative, which provides public funds for programmes cofunded by industry.
The scheme, now in its second year, has been so successful at attracting private donations that the government has decided to increase the amount of public money it ploughs into it this year by 60 per cent, to a total of Pounds 34.5 million. This is being matched by Pounds 45 million from industry and charities.
The government says the initiative will now become a regular fixture in the research calendar, with arrangements for this year's competition announced this week .
Oxford University tops the grants table, winning public funding exceeding Pounds 5 million, with Cambridge University second and London's Imperial College third.
Among the biggest winners were Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, who won more than Pounds 1.26 million of public money for his investigation into the origins of the universe.
John Battle, minister for science, said the JREI showed the success that could come from partnership between the science base and industry.
John Mulvey, of Save British Science, said that though the money was welcome, as was the Pounds 25 million announced earlier this year by the government for research equipment, there was still "great concern as to how to deal with the backlog in equipment for university teaching and research, which now amounts to Pounds 1 billion".
Public money for the JREI has come from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is contributing Pounds 23 million, Pounds 10 million more than it initially proposed; the DFEE, Pounds 5 million; from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, Pounds 1.8 million; from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Pounds 900,000 and from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, Pounds 500,000.
The research councils' contribution has increased from an initial proposal of Pounds 5 million to Pounds 8 million. This compares with Pounds 25 million of public money for the 1996 round.
The closing date for applications for the next round of the initiative, JREI98, is May 31.