World-leading researchers in teaching-led institutions face the "perverse" prospect of being denied funds for PhD students, the Million+ think-tank has warned.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England's research committee was expected to meet as Times Higher Education went to press to finalise the formula for converting the results of the 2008 research assessment exercise into the 2009-10 funding allocations, due be announced on 5 March.
The RAE found that world-leading and internationally excellent research was more widely distributed across the sector than previously thought, leading to fears among large research-intensive universities that they would lose funding to teaching-led institutions with "pockets of excellence".
Hefce has already moved to shift money back to the research elites by reducing the funding allocation to arts, humanities and social science - where teaching-intensive institutions shine - to protect the funding flowing to science, engineering, maths and medicine, where research-intensive universities do better.
But another element of the formula could take further funding away from pockets of excellence, Million+ said.
The think-tank, which represents post-1992 universities, is concerned by a clause in Hefce's funding formula for the allocation of £203 million in research degree programme (RDP) funding to support the supervision of postgraduate students.
The clause states that RDP funding will be allocated based on the numbers of eligible students in each department but will also be "subject to a quality threshold, so that students in the 15 per cent of departments with the lowest-quality weighting within the calculation for mainstream QR (quality-related research funding) are not counted".
Million+ said this will disadvantage small departments that have done well in the RAE.
Les Ebdon, chair of Million+ and vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said: "(The proposal could) produce the perverse outcome of world-class and internally excellent researchers being left without Hefce funding for doctoral students."
It could also "undermine the diversity of the research base", he said.
- The 5 March issue of Times Higher Education will feature the complete list of 2009-10 funding allocations, with full analysis, on the day they are released.
WALES TO FOLLOW ENGLAND AS SCOTLAND MULLS DECISION
The Welsh funding council has revealed how it will distribute £74.4 million of quality-related (QR) research funding.
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales said that it would use the same weightings as the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Research that is judged to be "world-leading" (4*) will be funded at a rate seven times higher than work that has been judged "internationally recognised" (2*). Research that is "internationally excellent" (3*) will be funded at a rate three times higher than 2* research. Nationally recognised (1*) research will not be funded at all.
But, unlike Hefce, the Welsh council will not fund excellence wherever it is found. Departments with fewer than three staff will be ineligible for funding.
An additional £6.1 million has been earmarked to boost 4* work in Welsh higher education institutions.
The Welsh allocations are due to be announced in mid-March.
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is still assessing how to allocate research funding to Scottish universities.
Higher education funding is due to be announced by the SFC at the beginning of April.