HIGH-FLYING universities have been plundered to pay for the less successful in a funding round aimed at fending off cash crises in individual institutions. But the 1997/98 allocations announced yesterday signal a stormy time for some as radical changes in research ratings are taken into account.
Poor performers have been cushioned by Pounds 7 million of extra help, allocated on a sliding scale and boosted by extra funds from the most improved institutions. Exeter, London and Manchester universities and Queen Mary and Westfield College have received more than Pounds 1 million of this each, while Oxford and University College London, both of which performed particularly well in the research assessment exercise, have each had to donate more than Pounds 1 million.
But the Higher Education Funding Council for England warns that this "moderation" money will not be around forever. Institutions which have received additional funds exceeding either Pounds 500,000 or 4 per cent of their recurrent funding will have to agree future strategies with the council to cope with the underlying shortfall in grant.
Rob Hull, secretary of HEFCE, said: "We want to reflect the research changes but at a pace that institutions can manage. The full effects of the formula aren't felt in the first year, particularly for the losers. We are giving them a breathing space."
The formula is also preventing any major upheavals in higher education before the general election and the Dearing review.
The extra Pounds 100 million allocated to higher education in November's Budget has eased the financial picture for a sector which experienced an average 5 per cent loss in real terms last year. But this year's increase of less than 1 per cent has kept funding tight.
Worst hit are St George's Medical School with a 4.14 per cent cut, the University of London's school of pharmacy losing 3.43 per cent and Aston University, which has a 2.93 per cent reduction. Kent, Hull and Liverpool universities and Queen Mary and Westfield College also lose more than 2 per cent.
Winners among the universities include Southampton, with a 7.5 per cent increase, Cranfield at 7.37 per cent and the University of Central England with 6.97.
The 1996 RAE revealed more and better research. Top-graded departments have been funded at a 20 per cent premium, which leaves significantly less money for those with lower grades. The council has also introduced changes to the allocation of funding between different subjects according to their different costs. These two factors mean that even institutions which have performed as well as they did last year could see their overall grant drop.
Brian Fender, chief executive of HEFCE, said: "Through selective funding we have concentrated resources in excellent departments wherever they are found. We are also encouraging collaboration as a way of developing research potential in promising departments."
The emphasis on top research is likely to increase in future years as the "moderation" money and development cash for collaborative projects at new universities and higher education colleges is dropped.
Plans are also afoot to add a policy element to the research weighting, which would mean, for example, more money for research considered worthwhile for Britain and less money for subjects stronger in teaching.