Ministers favour RAE elite

December 21, 2001

  • Researchers still do not know how much funding they will receive next year. A compromise reached by funding chiefs last week has pleased no one, while the government has conceded that the top research universities are underfunded.

Only researchers in departments rated 5* will have their income protected. But if a university has substantially increased the number of researchers working in 5* departments, its money will be capped. To fund 5* departments, cash will be cut from those with 5, 4, 3a and 3b grades.

The English funding council is modelling a handful of options to identify what the consequences of different levels of cuts would be for different institutions and subjects. The final decision will be made at its board meeting on January 23.

Speaking to The THES this week, higher education minister Margaret Hodge said that the government was looking at ways to increase the cash available for top-rated university research. She said: "I do not think that the top tier of universities is funded enough. I think the concentration of funding is about right - but do they get enough?

"I really think (the funding council's compromise) reflects difficulties in the system at present. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is wrestling with the situation at present.

"We will be looking at how to support globally competitive research, make sure basic research is funded properly and ensure that growth of the knowledge transfer to local economies is achieved."

The Association of University Teachers is pressing the funding council to protect jobs when deciding how to allocate the research cash. Sally Hunt, assistant general secretary of the AUT, this week wrote to Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of Hefce, about her concern.

She said: "Many staff who have devoted their efforts to improving the quantity and quality of their research now fear that their work will go unrewarded because of the need to fund the outcome of the 2001 RAE even more selectively than the normal translation of the research ratings into funding allocations would suggest.

"This will have a catastrophic impact on staff morale and motivation at a time when our institutions are already under intolerable pressures to dance to a variety of government tunes that are not entirely harmonious."

Liz Allen, of lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "It is a really invidious position. We have argued for not reducing the pretty small share of the pot that grade-3 departments get. This research has real potential. In other disciplines, such as health studies, a grade 4 could be received by people working on the ground with particular projects and it is important that that research is financed."

The funding councils will review the RAE next year to check whether it is still fit for the purpose for which it was designed. Sir Howard said: "I am sure there will be another RAE. I think it is inevitable that you reward research on a selective basis. Whether it is an RAE in the current form, I have my doubts."

  • The House of Commons science and technology committee is to conduct an inquiry into the RAE next year. It will consider whether the results represent a real improvement in performance and will look at alternative strategies for allocating research funding.

RAE 2001 league tables

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