Price of policy put at £230m

November 28, 2003

The government and the higher education sector could save tens of millions in administration costs by scrapping the dual-support system that funds university research, according to a report.

An independent study commissioned by the Royal Society and passed exclusively to The THES this week has found that the cost of maintaining both funding streams is about £230 million over five years.

But one model being considered to streamline the system could result in some universities losing as much as 75 per cent of their research funding.

The report, compiled by independent research and policy analysts Evidence, has informed Royal Society president Lord May's campaign to persuade the government to scrap the dual-support system. He is expected to present the findings next week.

The system relies on two streams to divide research funding: the funding councils use the research assessment exercise to distribute funding for research infrastructure, and the research councils use peer review to award funding for research projects.

According to Evidence's ballpark calculations, assessing and administrating these funds costs £80 million for the funding-council stream and Pounds 150 million for the research-council stream.

Lord May has argued that both streams produce similar results and could be streamlined.

Jonathan Adams, director of Evidence, said that an alternative would be to use the information gathered by the research councils to allocate all the money.

According to his calculations, roughly 50 per cent of universities would profit from such a change - but the other half would see their research income drop.

Mr Adams said the Royal Society saw this model as the best solution, although it felt it was suitable only for science subjects, not arts and humanities. "Different institutions have different subject mixes so that would have to be taken into account," he explained.

Mr Adams argued that stripping the system to one funding stream might not prove ideal. But he said: "I don't think the fact that there are winners and losers is a reason for not doing something."

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