Research formula will reward elite

January 24, 1997

FUNDING council chiefs unveiled a radically more selective system for sharing out research cash to English universities this week.

The values that the Higher Education Funding Council for England attached to its ratings in the recent research assessment exercise are expected to widen the funding gap between top-performing and lower-ranking university departments. Those which managed a rating of only 1 or 2, more than a quarter of the total, will not get a share of the Pounds 680 million-plus HEFCE is sharing out next month. Grade 2s were funded last time.

Departments which achieved a 5-star grade will be rewarded with a 20 per cent "premium" above those with a 5. However they may get little more money than a 5 got last time while 5 this time could lose cash.

New universities with a relatively high number of grade 2s stand to lose substantial sums. De Montfort got 14 grade 2s in 1992 and 13 this time; Staffordshire had six and now has 13; Liverpool John Moores had ten and now has 12; and Northumbria had 14 and now has 11.

In Scotland, funding council heads have also decided to cut 1 and 2-rated departments out of a share of Pounds 105 million, but they will not differentiate financially between 5s and 5-stars.

The values applied to ratings in England, which are one element (Quality) in the research funding formula by which the funding council calculates the distribution of its research money, have been stretched so that the ratio between grade 3s and the top grade is now double what it was after the 1992 RAE. But all higher ratings, apart from the 5-star, will lose ground against the previous exercise. (see chart).

A 5-star, gained by only just over 6 per cent of departments, attracts a Q value of 4.05 - very little more than a 5 got last time.

Lower Q values are bad news because HEFCE will multiply the volume of research in each department by this figure. Another important factor built into the calculations is the cost weightings the funding council is applying to four new broad categories of research. The top weighting of 1.7 goes to clinical research and science and engineering. The next band called "other experimental and practical" gets 1.3, while "everything else" has a weighting of 1. The combination of these three factors determines how research money is divided up.

Departments in institutions not funded for research before 1992 and which received a 2 this time may get a share of a special fund which will replace the old Dev-R cash pot. The money will be used to encourage collaboration between low and higher rated departments.

HEFCE is also boosting support for research work that attracts charity funding by raising its weighting from 0.2 to 0.25 to help cover overheads. But Bahram Bekhradnia, HEFCE's head of policy, said: "We think there should be some contribution from charities and we will be discussing this with them."

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales is set to discuss RAE funding on January 31, while the Northern Ireland Higher Education Council will consider HEFCE's decisions in March.

Additional research by Carol Nahra.

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