Winners rue £1bn prize

July 27, 2001

The universities that secured the highest funding from a government science investment fund have described their success as a poisoned chalice - because they have to raise a quarter of the cash.

Sir Christopher Llewelyn-Smith, provost of University College London, said the institution was "a victim of its own success". And Colin Lucas, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said under-funding was getting worse as universities became more research-intensive - they were having to take money from other departments to unlock the Science Research Investment Fund cash.

The criticism came as the 15 largest projects funded by the SRIF in England were announced. The £1 billion fund was set up by the government and the Wellcome Trust to address the problems caused by under-funding of science facilities in universities. The grants were awarded with the proviso that institutions raise about a quarter of the project cost from other sources.

UCL secured a total of £46.4 million, the highest allocation. Sir Christopher said that finding the matching funding had caused "tremendous problems" - the college was having to borrow the money so it would have to service the loan.

He said the SRIF windfall would enable universities to catch up on infrastructure investment, but this would not cure the true problem, caused by a huge gap between government funding and ongoing research costs.

Earlier this year, UCL staff were told the college was facing a deficit of several million pounds. It was close to the bottom of The THES 's liquidity table.

Oxford had three of the largest projects and was allocated £43 million but this will cover only 60 per cent of costs. Its share will come from cash reserves and fundraising. Imperial College, which was given £46.1 million, said it would use its capital plan to cover its quarter share of the funding.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England said the arrangement had worked well. A spokeswoman said universities had generally exceeded the 25 per cent requirement and that £500 million of external money had been brought into the sector.

Of the 370 projects submitted, 50 were inter-university collaborations, while a further 10 per cent are still awaiting approval.

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