The UK's top universities could lose up to £140 million in funding following the findings of a government study of research quality.
The cuts in funding could come as a result of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) report, which was published last month. For the first time, the report assessed departments using a graded profile rather than a single mark. It found that high-ranking top-rated research was more prevalent in most of the universities than formerly thought.
The Russell Group, a collaboration of twenty leading universities that is given two thirds of universities’ research grant funding in the UK, has said that its members could face the prospect of “haemorrhaging money” when the government announces this year’s funding allocations in March.
150 of 159 participating institutions produced pieces of research that was deemed “world-leading." If the four British funding councils fund all “world-leading” research, the Russell Group could lose 10 per cent of funding.
The University of Edinburgh, a member of the Russell Group, has welcomed the RAE findings but has not commented regarding a possible decrease in funding. Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of UoE, said: “Research at the University of Edinburgh is constantly expanding the depth of human knowledge and making an impact on the wider world, improving the quality of life for people in Scotland and further afield.”
Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group, was optimistic, viewing the results in terms of how it could help the recent economic slump. “This success is good news for the UK, as major research-intensive universities are vital to promoting economic prosperity and improving quality of life in this country," she said. "Now more than ever our research-led institutions have a crucial role to play in helping the UK survive the economic downturn and stimulate a recovery.”
Despite being wary of a potential loss in funding, Piatt said that the Russell Group was “keen to remind people of the importance of critical mass and maintaining world-class universities.”
The RAE restated the University of Edinburgh’s position as one of the “world-leading” institutions for research. 63 per cent of the university’s research was classed in the highest two categories. 1,684 individuals at the university (more than 90 per cent of university staff) submitted their work to be assessed, spanning 39 subject areas.
Whilst NUS Vice President for Higher Education, Aaron Porter, praised the results as well, he also warned of the possibility of disproportionate funding allocations: “The concentration of research funding to ‘elite’ institutions may result in denying the wider cohort of students facilities and research-informed teaching that funding brings and all students need.”