Reports aid case for more money

August 25, 2000

The accountability review - which shows that the costs of administering any extra funding can be disproportionate to the extra money awarded - is the first of three evaluations of the sector to report in the coming months.

Set up following concerns that the demands of accountability were placing too great a burden on the higher education sector, it was initially hoped the review would inform the most recent spending review.

That opportunity was partially lost when the spending review was brought forward by six months to July 2000. However, the study can still influence future spending.

While most other areas of public spending received their budgets for the coming three years, that for higher education is for one year only - spending settlements for 2002-03 and 2003-04 are still to be announced.

Eyes are now turning to two further studies - the transparency review and the fundamental review of research.

The first aims to show for the first time the true costs of teaching, research and other activities. Nine pilot institutions have completed costings. They report that staff are working up to 70 hours a week, and that unpaid overtime helps keep higher education afloat. Overseas student fees are subsidising the teaching of British and European Union undergraduates, according to figures.

All research activity bleeds money - whether it is paid for from the public purse or private funds. Universities are also skimping on building maintenance.

The transparency review emerged from the 1998 spending review in which higher education claimed research was underfunded but was unable to demonstrate statistical proof. When the full extent of the shortfall is identified, universities will be looking to government to plug the gap.

The interim report of the fundamental review of research is due out next month. It looked at issues including: selectivity and the characteristics of research excellence; the nature and purpose of the Higher Education Funding Council for England funding; the role of quality assurance and evaluation; the relationship between teaching, research and other outputs; and personnel and training issues.

It is likely to recommend that more money is needed to maintain the level of grant going into top-rated research departments, which would otherwise suffer as the cake is cut into more slices.

Cash for research training is also likely to emerge as a priority.

Taken with performance indicators, it is hoped the reports will provide a robust basis from which to lever more money for higher education.

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