Claims that Welsh universities punch below their weight in research quality are without foundation, according to a paper by the Learned Society of Wales.
The scholarly group contends that the country’s institutions “rank highly when measured against the standards of national and international competitors”, and it aims to counter “prevailing negative perceptions of the research performance of Wales’s universities”.
Recognising the Quality of Research at Universities in Wales, by Robin Williams, former vice-chancellor of Swansea University and a Higher Education Funding Council for Wales council member, was published on 12 February.
In 2010-11, Welsh universities won just 3.4 per cent of UK research council funding despite having 4.9 per cent of the population, the paper acknowledges.
But this “relatively low level” of funding is due to “low numbers of academic staff in Wales in medicine, engineering and the physical sciences, all of which draw funding from the higher spending Research Councils,” the paper argues.
Professor Williams analysed Wales’ performance by weighing the proportion of the UK’s quality-related (QR) funding it received against the proportion of 3* and 4* research it produced in the 2008 research assessment exercise.
The paper shows that Wales received 4.3 per cent of QR funding in 2007-08 but created 4.45 per cent of 3* and 4* ranked research in the RAE, the best ratio in the UK.
Wales “leads the UK in terms of output quality…per pound invested,” concludes Professor Williams’ study.
Since the 1980s, it has been argued that Welsh universities are too small to achieve the critical mass needed to win research grants, according to Universities and Constitutional Change in the UK, a 2012 Higher Education Policy Institute report. This has been one of the justifications used for the ongoing government-driven merger of the country’s 10 institutions into seven.