CASH for postgraduate research students will be confined to high-scorers in the recent research assessment exercise, under new funding plans.
The decision boosts established research departments and institutions at the expense of others with a low research base.
Until now, postgraduate research students have been covered by cash for both teaching and research. But the Higher Education Funding Council for England wants to channel all money for second and third-year postgraduate research students through research funds, based on performance.
Details have still to be finalised but it will mean departments rated 1 or 2 in the RAE will not be funded for postgraduate research students beyond the first year.
The decision follows a review of postgraduate education chaired last year by Martin Harris, vice chancellor of Manchester University and the next chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.
The review suggested that counting postgraduate students twice - in teaching and research - could encourage institutions to expand postgraduate numbers at the expense of undergraduates. It was also worried that further growth would cause a drop in standards.
Following its recommendations, research funding this year included only postgraduate numbers in top-rated departments. Now, teaching funding will also be allocated on this basis.
Consultation on the review found 90 per cent of respondents endorsing its call for a code of practice for educating postgraduate students which would assess both research infrastructure and student support.
Alice Frost, head of research policy at HEFCE, said the council's plans were interim measures until such a code was implemented.
"We are looking at how we can make sure postgraduate students are funded in departments which have sufficient time and research infrastructure to provide the right environment for them," she said.
"We also want to ensure that we safeguard the student experience. This is all about messages for the future. We need to start with research quality and offer that as a base for postgraduate training."
But John Gray, general secretary of the national postgraduate committee, said: "It's perfectly possible for someone to do good original research in a department with a low rating. It encourages diversity and helps departments that want to develop their research base."
He added that the new arrangements could also deter mature or part-time students who could only choose local universities.
Chris Topley, dean of research at Oxford Brookes University, said: "In high-rated departments the staff are so busy chasing the RAE, students can get short-changed."