Two Scottish economists have called for a radical shake-up of research funding that would see Scottish departments judged against their counterparts in the UK rather than other subjects in Scotland.
The proposals, by Monojit Chatterji and Paul Seaman of Dundee University's department of economic studies, would see a massive shift in the distribution of Scotland's £130 million of research support. Nursing would be the biggest winner: Professor Chatterji and Dr Seaman say its funding is 57 per cent lower than it would be under UK benchmarking, £87,000 rather than £202,000.
A report published by the Scottish economic policy network, Funding Research In Scotland's Universities: The Use and Abuse of RAE Results, says the "inward-looking focus" of judging one area against other areas in Scotland "cannot be relied upon to reward true research excellence".
Seven of the top eight areas under the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's current system would lose out from a UK comparison, they say.
Biological sciences, hospital-based clinical subjects, physics, veterinary science, clinical laboratory sciences, electrical and electronic engineering and chemistry would all see their funding drop, with only computer science gaining 11 per cent.
The report says these areas' research ratings appear "stellar" compared with their Scottish peers in other disciplines but are no match for English stars in the same disciplines.
The Scottish submissions for biological sciences, one 5*, four 5s and one 4, which won 11.5 per cent of Shefc's research funds, are "put in the shade" by Cambridge University's five submissions of two 5*s and three 5s, with 64 per cent of staff in the 5* departments.
"It can be argued that the physical and medical sciences benefit from being a large fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a large pond," the report says.