I read with interest Ron Johnston's letter (THES, August 4) on the implications of the forthcoming Research Assessment Exercise for the funding of grade 5 departments.
The Higher Education Funding Council for Scotland has already considered its likely changes, in terms of quality, to the research funding formula after the 1996 exercise. At this stage it intends to maintain the unit of research funding to top-quality departments, as per the Technology Foresight Programme recommendation for the selective support of quality research. Inevitably, this protection of high-quality work is likely to result in little or no support for lower-rated subjects and thus require a recasting of the weighting of the quality factor in the council's funding formula.
In its recently issued wide-ranging consultation paper "Addressing Technology Foresight", the council also recognises there may be an issue about whether the selectivity of the quality factor should be the same across all subjects. For example, there may be a case for offering some time-limited protection for some 2-rated departments in subjects which are considered vital or where provision is unique in Scotland. On the other hand, there may be some subjects where it is considered that only participation at the highest levels is appropriate and that only activity of the highest quality should be supported.
Therefore, as part of its consultation, the council is asking the question: Is there a case for different levels of selectivity for the same quality ratings where subjects are judged to have differing priority?
Chief executive Scottish HEFC