Wilson hints at research rethink

September 26, 1997

Olga Wojtas reports from a conference exploring the pitfalls and opportunities for HE in a devolved Scotland

The new universities north of the border have welcomed apparent support from Scottish education minister Brian Wilson for more seedcorn funding for research.

Mr Wilson was lobbied strongly during a recent visit to the University of Abertay Dundee for a more level playing field for research funding, backed by claims that new universities in England are more generously supported.

"Setting up universities without a research capacity is almost a contradiction in terms," Mr Wilson said this week. "If you don't have some seedcorn, it's impossible to establish a track record."

Mr Wilson said the principles of research funding would be considered over the next few months. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council will allocate Pounds 7.5 million over the next three years to help colleges and universities develop their research base. But Mr Wilson's comments could herald a greater percentage of its research funding going on development.

Bernard King, principal of Abertay Dundee, said that by the millennium, SHEFC would have given Scotland's eight older universities Pounds 800 million with only Pounds 30 million for the five new universities. While they taught 33 per cent of Scottish students, they received less than 4 per cent of funding for research infrastructure, compared with 7 per cent for new universities in England, he said.

"The minister's words are heartening. We support the idea of supporting research excellence but would like equity with England."

A SHEFC spokeswoman said Professor King was not comparing like with like, since the former polytechnic sector accounted for a much bigger proportion of provision than the equivalent Scottish sector.

Richard Shaw, convener of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals and principal of Paisley University, said: "Seedcorn funding would provide excellent value for money."

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