Russell Group counts the cost as allocations slash the funding available per researcher

Amount for elite staff cut by £6,000, Times Higher Education analysis shows. Zoë Corbyn reports

March 12, 2009

England's elite research universities have lost an average of more than £6,000 per researcher as a result of last week's funding allocations, according to a new analysis by Times Higher Education.

The figures, which show one institution losing more than £12,000 for each full-time researcher, have led to warnings that the UK's world-leading institutions may have to reduce the amount of research they do to balance the books.

Last week, a total of £1.572 billion in recurrent research cash for 2009-10 was shared out between 124 English institutions on the basis of the 2008 research assessment exercise's results.

Because the money was more widely distributed than in previous allocations, the share of mainstream quality-related (QR) research funding awarded to the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities fell from 65 per cent to 60 per cent.

A number of teaching-led institutions were awarded funding for the "pockets of excellence" identified by the RAE.

Of the big research players, Imperial College London lost £5 million, a drop of 5.1 per cent; the University of Southampton lost £3.3 million, a fall of 6.9 per cent; and the London School of Economics lost £2.4 million, a decline of 13.4 per cent.

But the analysis by Times Higher Education reveals the full extent of the changes to the higher education funding landscape.

It looked at the research funding each university received against the total number of staff whose work was submitted to the RAE.

Across the English sector, there was an overall increase of 12 per cent in the number of staff entered into the exercise, bringing the total to nearly 42,000 full-time equivalent academics. This rise was against an increase in total research funding of 8 per cent, a real-terms increase of 6 per cent (with inflation standing at a rate of 2 per cent). The average drop in funding per researcher is £1,400.

Russell Group

All 16 of the English Russell Group institutions experienced a reduction in the amount of research funding per researcher for their 2009-10 allocation (which is based on the 2008 RAE) compared with their 2008-09 allocation (based on the 2001 RAE).

The fall, which averaged £6,100 per researcher across the group, ranged from £12,100 per researcher at Southampton to about £400 at the University of Liverpool.

Even the University of Nottingham, which received the biggest cash increase in total research funding of any university (a rise of £9.6 million), received only £36,500 per researcher - a drop from the £41,700 secured previously.

Falls and rises

Among the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, the picture is not much brighter.

With only two exceptions - Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Leicester - all experienced a drop in funding averaging £5,100 per researcher. The biggest loser in the analysis was the University of the Arts London, which saw its figure per researcher plummet by £,700 to £26,400.

By contrast, all Million+ universities secured increases in funding per researcher. The biggest winner was the University of East London. Its research staff can celebrate a jump in funding from £8,600 to £24,800 each.

Tough decisions

Malcolm Grant, president of the Russell Group and provost of University College London, said the analysis showed that while research-intensive universities had been running to stand still, the drop per researcher meant that they had not be able to keep up.

"It becomes very difficult to see how a university can run the same volumes of activity and yet balance its books," he said. "This has not been a favourable settlement for what are among the world's most outstanding research universities."

But he rejected any assumption that the Russell Group had faltered in the RAE. It was trying to improve its output from a "very high position", while the RAE's structure had enabled pockets of excellence outside the research elite to be identified and funded.

Paul Wellings, president-elect of the 1994 Group, said the "substantially less" money coming into universities per researcher would lead to some tough decisions.

"Where individual departments have a shortfall on the research side, they are either going to have to earn more research money in a recession, which is very difficult; recruit more students, which will mean more international students; or staff won't be replaced at the same rate.

"We could see some unusual patterns emerging quickly as senior management teams start to reflect on what the internal consequences (of the RAE) will be."

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