Edinburgh and other research-intensives lose out in funding reshuffle

A major reorganisation of quality-related funding in Scotland will take money away from the “ancient” universities and hand it to newer institutions

March 6, 2015

Source: Kim Traynor

The University of Edinburgh will be hit particularly hard, losing £8 million in 2015-16, rising to £14 million annually by 2017-18.

This is partly the result of the Scottish Funding Council’s decision to change the funding weighting given to research rated as world-leading (4*) compared with work judged to be internationally excellent (3*), following the results of the 2014 research excellence framework.

The ratio, previously 3.11:1, will be adjusted to 3:1. In contrast, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has changed its ratio from 3:1 to 4:1.

The SFC’s decision reflects a request from Michael Russell, the previous Scottish education secretary, for greater support to be given “emerging excellence” in research.

But the redistribution of funding away from the ancients towards newer institutions also reflects the suspension of Scotland’s global excellence initiative, which provided additional funding for world-leading research, and the improving performance of newer institutions in research assessments.

The SFC will phase in its adjustment to the distribution of its research excellence grant according to the REF results since it does not have additional funding available to mitigate the impact of any changes.

On research excellence grant alone, Edinburgh’s funding will go down from £84 million this year to £75.2 million in 2017-18, even though the REF rated it fourth in the UK for research power.

Sir Timothy O’Shea, its principal, said the reduction in funding would “cause Scotland to lose an important competitive advantage that delivers jobs and opportunities”.

“We are a small country which has achieved extraordinary innovation and international impact from research,” he said. “Now is not the time to reduce investment in Scotland’s future jobs and prospects.”

The overall amount of research excellence grant will increase from £230.7 million this year to £231.8 million next year, and it will then be effectively frozen at that level for the following two years.

Between 2014-15 and 2017-18, the research excellence grant allocated to the University of Aberdeen will reduce from £21.1 million to £20 million, while the University of St Andrews’ allocation will go down from £17.7 million to £17.3 million.

The University of Dundee will drop from £20.9 million to £19.4 million, while the University of Glasgow will enjoy an increase from £44.8 million to £45.8 million.

Institutions that will see their funding increase significantly over the same period include Heriot-Watt University, up from £9.9 million to £12.1 million; the University of Stirling, up from £5.3 million to £7.1 million; and the University of Strathclyde, up from £16.4 million to £18.3 million.

Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of the West of Scotland also benefit.

Another significant factor has been the inclusion of SRUC, Scotland’s rural college, in the research excellence grant for the first time. It will receive £3.5 million annually by 2017-18.

Laurence Howells, the SFC’s chief executive, said that the funding settlement would ensure that Scotland “carries on being a winner in the competitive world of university research”.

“It will mean that Scotland can continue to attract and develop the best research talent,” he said.

Pete Downes, convenor of Universities Scotland and principal of the University of Dundee, said it was “very difficult not to feel like universities have become victims of their own success”.

“It is incredibly disheartening to go from such a high in December and a feeling of great pride when our universities were confirmed as world class and as delivering outstanding impact for Scotland through their research, to today’s funding allocations which confirm that many will lose out and there is no scope to build on that success,” he said.


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