Pounds 30m lab cash after v-cs' plea

April 18, 1997

TOP SCIENCE institutions are to benefit from an extra Pounds 30 million a year to modernise laboratories and boost research in biomedical sciences and chemistry, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has announced.

Speaking at HEFCE's annual conference at Warwick last week, chief executive Brian Fender said that the funding council will judge bids for laboratory money on the quality of research carried out and any contribution to collaborative projects. Consultation will begin in the next few weeks.

The extra money will be welcomed by vice chancellors who have just submitted a report to the Dearing inquiry on higher education arguing that there is a shortfall of Pounds 530 million a year for research infrastructure. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals' submission says universities will have to reduce the amount of research they undertake unless more money can be found for infrastructure.

The Pounds 530 million covers salaries and indirect costs associated with use of libraries, computers and administration and excludes a shortfall of Pounds 474 million for research equipment identified by a CVCP report last year.

Kenneth Edwards, chairman of the CVCP research and technology transfer committee that drew up the report, says: "My own view is that we are supporting too great a volume of research and it is affecting our ability to cater for future research."

The CVCP says universities have been delivering the volume of research funded by industry, research councils and charities by cutting spending on equipment and laboratories. One impact of this is that part of the research money from funding councils meant for speculative research work, estimated by the CVCP to be about Pounds 75 million, is being used to support projects funded by other sources.

The report concludes there is insufficient money on the funding council side of the dual support system to cover the volume of research sponsored from external sources, mainly the research councils and charities. Institutions are also accepting more grants than can be supported by their infrastructure funding.

Greater transparency will also be needed in the use of research funds by universities "so that funding bodies have a clear understanding of the purposes for which their own and others' support is provided", the report says.

Medical research charities have been under pressure in recent years to increase their indirect support for research projects. Professor Fender suggested to university heads at HEFCE's conference that greater transparency in their infrastructure spending could help to convince charities of the need to increase their indirect contribution.

He also suggested that a compromise might be reached with the research charities whereby they agree to pay "support costs" for research they sponsor rather than "overheads".

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