THES reporters look at how RAE results have improved and put Hefce on the spot.
Funding chiefs will decide today what to do with the results of the research assessment exercise, which they use to allocate £1 billion of research grants each year.
RAE results have improved greatly. More than half of researchers work in departments containing work of international excellence, rated 5 or 5*, compared with about a third in 1996 and less than a quarter in 1992.
Under the current funding mechanism, it would cost an extra £170 million to reward improvement in England alone. Education minister Margaret Hodge has said Higher Education Funding Council for England will get no more funds to meet this bill in the next financial year, when the better results were due to be funded.
Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of Hefce, had favoured delaying acting on the results for a year to buy time to fight for more money in next year's spending review. But at its November 1 meeting, the Hefce board asked for other options.
Hefce has undertaken to protect the funding of top-rated departments at all costs. Sir Howard's predecessor, Sir Brian Fender, had also promised to fund departments rated 3a and 3b. Today's board meeting will consider dropping that commitment. As the saving would not be big enough, the board will consider also cutting funds to departments rated 4.
The Department for Education and Skills has backed protecting the top-rated researchers. Writing to Hefce chairman David Young last month, education secretary Estelle Morris said: "The council should at least maintain its funding for research in real terms, based on 2001-02 spending, in 2002-03 and 2003-04. I know the council is considering how to implement the outcome of the research assessment exercise in distributing funding for research in 2002-03. I recognise the council will want to continue to fund adequately the best research."
RAE 2001 league tables