Research funding for middle-ranking departments could be clawed back by the government before the next research assessment exercise, it emerged this week, writes Alan Thomson.
The government's research strategy, set out in the white paper, could mean an abrupt end to funding for departments rated 4 and 3a in the last RAE, before they are next assessed.
Higher education minister Margaret Hodge told the education and skills select committee on Monday that departments rated 4 would have to show they can get 5 or 5* ratings to win infrastructural funding. The strategy would be introduced by 2008, she said. Sir Gareth Roberts, who is trying to develop a successor to the RAE, wants the next review in 2008.
Vice-chancellors' body Universities UK, which gave evidence to the committee on Wednesday, is deeply worried by further concentration of research, saying it will lead to the ossification of research in a small number of universities.
Arthur Lucas, principal of King's College London, told MPs: "There is no institution in the country that would not suffer if that (clawing back of research funding) was done."
The proposals for research funding remain with the minister. It is thought Hefce opposes more concentration of research funding but the government favours it. Ms Hodge said that departments rated 6* would not be fixed retrospectively. She said that the RAE panels might have to be reconvened.