Medical schools that take the less qualified to widen access will reap rewards.
Medical schools, which lost out significantly when teaching funding was shifted to those universities taking in poorer, less-qualified students, may be compensated for their loss in teaching grant - but only if they take students with lower-grade A levels.
Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, has written to the Council of Heads of Medical Schools (CHMS) to reassure them that teaching funding for their subject will be considered carefully over the coming year.
In the letter, written on July 25, Sir Howard also makes clear that medical schools will receive no special treatment in relation to research funding - many schools lost out heavily when the 2001 research assessment exercise was not funded in full.
A spokesperson for Hefce said: "Widening participation funding for 2003-04 was allocated on the basis of age, previous educational attainment and demography. We are currently consulting on whether to factor in the costs of different subjects for 2004-05."
Medicine, a more expensive subject to teach, would benefit from the extra funding - but only if schools took in students fulfilling the widening access criteria.
These are worked out on the basis of risk: students with lower-grade A levels are more likely to drop out, so universities need more money to support their studies. But most medical schools insist on high A-level grades and are unlikely to take less well-qualified students.
David Gordon, chairman of the CHMS and dean of the faculty of medicine, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy at the University of Manchester, said:
"Medical schools are keen to widen participation to students from non-traditional backgrounds but we cannot take people who are not going to have the academic potential to meet the demands of the subject and make good doctors. At the moment, A levels are the best indicators we have."
CHMS estimates that, overall, medical schools have lost out by £20 million as a result of the funding switch to those with better widening-participation records. Manchester alone, which takes 5 per cent of the country's medical undergraduates, lost £724,000 in 2003-04.
The letter from Sir Howard includes a table showing the extent to which medical schools lost out as a result of the distribution of RAE monies.
Of the well-established medical schools, Queen Mary, London, is down by 70.8 per cent, Nottingham by 56.1 per cent, Leicester by 41.5 per cent, Leeds by 6 per cent and Bristol by 1.9 per cent on 2001-02.