Brussels, 24 Oct 2003
A UK study carried out in response to government proposals to narrow the focus of public research funding to a few well established universities has found that such actions would be likely to have unwanted side effects.
The study, commissioned by Universities UK, claims that research concentration would exacerbate existing regional differences in research capacity and performance. Even universities set to gain from the proposals are unenthusiastic, with some Vice Chancellors believing that they would lose their regional support networks.
'It is disturbing that considerations of such far-reaching importance should so far have been advanced with virtually no supporting evidence,' writes Professor Ivor Crewe, President of Universities UK, in a foreword to the report.
The writers of the study go so far as to question whether any funding restructuring is necessary: 'there is no evidence that there is a current problem with the performance of the UK research base that needs to be addressed, either overall or at the level of the units most likely to see a funding loss.' This claim is backed up with statistics showing the UK's favourable position in comparison with international competitors in several areas of research. For example, the UK produces around nine per cent of the world's scientific papers, and ten per cent of the world's citations, second only to the US.
Dismissing the claim that research concentration would create better research, the study claims that relatively small research units bring in as much research funding per member of staff, produce a similar number of PhDs and papers, and have as high a research impact as larger units in their subject area.