Reaction forces SFC rethink on knowledge-transfer plans

It's back to the drawing board as teaching funding proposals are also delayed. Hannah Fearn reports

December 31, 2009

Funding chiefs have been forced to withdraw a consultation on the future of knowledge-exchange support in Scotland before it reached the desks of university principals.

The decision came as the Scottish Funding Council was also forced to admit that a proposed overhaul of its system for allocating teaching funding would not be implemented in next year's grant letter, following a furious reaction to the proposals.

The knowledge-exchange plans, originally due to be unveiled before Christmas, outlined changes to the way third-stream funding would be allocated.

Instead of rewarding past successes, the SFC hoped to introduce a system where universities would bid for specific projects.

Times Higher Education understands that universities were so unhappy with the plans that the SFC had to withdraw its first draft of the consultation just days before it was due to be distributed. The plans are now being reconsidered, with a new consultation to be issued in 2010.

A senior sector source said the proposed system would have pitched universities against each other for "relatively small" sums of money.

"They would have to invest time, effort and resources into putting bids together, and only one or two would be successful," the source said.

Meanwhile, university leaders have indicated that proposed changes to teaching funding, under which four different "price groups" would be introduced - leaving some disciplines facing major cuts - are to be delayed by at least a year.

The plans prompted an outcry when they were unveiled earlier this year, particularly from new universities that feared they would be hardest hit by the reforms. Concerns were also raised about the validity of the data used to draw up the proposals, which were based on figures from just one academic year.

The postponement was confirmed as the funding council posted supplementary data about the teaching groups on its website, which reveal vast differences in the cost of teaching the same subject at different universities. For example, teaching geography costs £3,458 per student at one institution but £10,805 at another, calling into question plans to allocate cash based on average costs.

Petra Wend, principal of Queen Margaret University, said she was hopeful that "the completed consultation exercise will result in a revised proposal from the SFC".

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