Welsh universities need more than 600 additional academics in science and technology if they are to secure a bigger share of UK research council funding, a report says.
A study published on 21 May by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education finds that Welsh institutions have consistently missed a Cardiff government target for them to win 5 per cent of research council funding, roughly equivalent to the country’s population share in the UK.
The proportion of funding secured by Welsh universities has fallen to about 3 per cent and the report says that this has led to concerns about research performance.
But the criticism is unfair, according to authors Peter Halligan, chief executive of the Learned Society of Wales, and Louise Bright, the Leadership Foundation’s associate director for Wales.
Government efforts to encourage institutional mergers and increased collaboration appear to have benefited research quality, they say, highlighting that Wales matched or outperformed the rest of the UK in the research excellence framework.
More than 75 per cent of all Welsh submissions were rated as world-leading or internationally excellent. Similarly Welsh academics’ success rate in grant applications is “not dissimilar” to the UK-wide average, the report adds.
But reforms have failed to address the underlying issue of research capacity, Professor Halligan and Dr Bright say. And the shortage of researchers making applications for funding in the first place appears to be concentrated in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics, where the biggest grants are available.
Using Higher Education Statistics Agency data to calculate how many additional academics would be needed at Welsh universities to achieve 4.8 per cent of each discipline’s UK-wide research workforce – to match Wales’ UK population share – Professor Halligan and Dr Bright say an extra 621 researchers are needed across STEMM subjects.
Key areas of shortfall include clinical medicine (242), physics (84) and mechanical engineering (78).
A £50 million government fund designed to attract top researchers to Wales should help to address the shortfall, the report says.