The Government has given the first official indications that it may be in favour of the creation of an elite league of British universities, by urging Sir Ron Dearing to consider the possibilities of limiting the number of institutions eligible for public research money, writes Alan Thomson.
Last week's Department for Education and Employment submission to the Dearing committee of inquiry into higher education makes it clear that the Government wants to force the issue of the distribution of research funds higher up Sir Ron's agenda.
The submission document says that, while the allocation of research funds rests with the funding councils, the Government has a role in setting the framework.
It adds that more than half of research funding already goes to just 14 institutions.
The DFEE document says: "An important issue is whether all higher education institutions should continue to be eligible to compete for higher education research funds and, if so, how the most efficient use of resources can be ensured."
A DFEE spokesman said that the Government was merely raising the question for the committee to consider and that there is no suggestion in the submission of any universities being barred from competing for research cash.
* Sir Ron Dearing has rejected pleas that he use his authority to shame the Government into reversing the higher and further education funding cuts imposed by the last budget.
Sir Ron's reply to a letter sent by Sir Derek Roberts, provost of University College London, said that the tight timescale of the report, due to be published next summer, means that there is no time in which to produce an interim report.