Push for research cash limit

May 10, 1996

The movement towards concentrating research funding in a smaller number of university departments will receive fresh impetus next week with the publication of the Harris review of postgraduate education.

The review, chaired by Martin Harris, vice chancellor of Manchester University, will advise the Higher Education Funding Council for England to limit research student-related funding to departments which achieve a rating of 3 or above in the Research Assessment Exercise or which can obtain significant research grants.

This follows last month's call by a group of learned societies to remove research cash from departments which fall below the 3 rating.

Funding council money should also be conditional on institutions adopting a code of practice for postgraduate research education, the report says. This would incorporate requirements for research facilities and supervision and a clear pre-admission indication to students of the commitment, including finance, required.

The report, sponsored by HEFCE, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the Standing Conference of Principals, notes the relative lack of discussion of postgraduate education, numbers and funding in recent years. It calls on the forthcoming Dearing committee of inquiry to ensure that both postgraduate and undergraduate sectors are supported by public funds. It also argues for a market-driven model of provision rather than national planning.

It points to the rapid growth in taught postgraduate courses, currently linked with undergraduate numbers in HEFCE's funding model. Concerned that this growth has led to a funding transfer away from undergraduates, it calls for the creation of a separate funding category to prevent further leakage. But it rejects any suggestion of an upper limit on numbers.

The committee considered the arguments for changing the distribution of postgraduate funding between the research and funding councils but concluded that they were not strong enough to outweigh the possible disadvantages.

Concern is also expressed at a lack of precision in terminology. The report calls on the CVCP and SCOP to encourage moves towards a standardised framework, and to improve the quality of information available to the public by developing a directory of postgraduate courses based on a common typology. Quality assurance should become the responsibility of the single quality agency, with reports on taught postgraduate courses issued separately from those on undergraduate provision, it says.

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