Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (BL03)

HEFCE allocation of funds

  1.  The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) was established by statute in 1992. It is responsible for distributing grant provided by the Secretary of State in support of teaching, research and related activities in higher education in England.

  2.  In 2002-03 the Council will distribute £5.08 billion of grant. The great majority of this is allocated to higher education institutions (HEIs) though we also fund some HE provision in colleges of further education. £4.2 billion is allocated as non-hypothecated block grants, calculated using national formulae, to support teaching and research activities broadly defined. The remainder is allocated as special grant for more closely specified purposes, including capital grants. Institutions generally prefer to receive the money as block grant, and we introduce targeted special grants only where there are very strong reasons to do so.

  3.  Figures returned by HEIs to the Higher Education Statistics Agency indicate that in 1999-2000 HEIs in England spent some £385 million on central libraries and information services. This includes library staff costs and purchases of publications (the latter being about a third of the total); but it also includes the costs of certain information services not provided through the library, and excludes buildings-related costs. It is 3.8 per cent of the institutions= total spending from all funding sources.

The HE library landscape

  4.  All HEIs are engaged in teaching; and for virtually all of them teaching at undergraduate level is a major element in their mission. All HEIs maintain library and other learning support facilities appropriate to their academic portfolio and the needs of their students, funded through general institutional income (including HEFCE grant and tuition fees).

  5.  HEIs engage in research activity of varying kinds, and to varying degrees, in accordance with their individual mission and the availability of funding. The pattern of provision of libraries and other information resources in support of research is consequently more diverse than for teaching and learning. The amount of specialist research relevant material to be found in the library of a particular HEI will reflect the institution's history and its current research strengths. Older institutions with a long history of research activity will tend to have built up larger and more diverse research collections than those which were established more recently or where research represents a smaller part of their overall academic activity.

  6.  Most researchers have always relied to some extent on sourcing research information, including publications, from outside their home institution. The contribution of resource sharing schemes—interlibrary loan and the Document Supply Centre of the British Library—is crucial in this context, as are the comprehensive collections held by the British Library and the "copyright" libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, and a number of specialised collections held elsewhere. Researchers increasingly depend upon the internet for rapid access to recently published material especially in scientific and technical disciplines.

  7.  The Council has supported the development of online access to information resources through the activities of the funding bodies' Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). The JISC has since its inception ensured that the provision of IT infrastructure for HE—both the hardware and physical connections, and the software and systems required to make these work—has kept pace with the needs of HE for both teaching and research. This work is currently carried forward partly under the Distributed National Electronic Resource programme, focussing on the development of an integrated electronic environment within which access to a wide range of research and teaching resources will be possible. The JISC has also sponsored and contributed to a number of initiatives to develop and support electronic content, including through the electronic libraries initiative (e-Lib) and more recently the Resource Discovery Network subject hubs. It works closely with other public agencies with an interest in electronic information resources, with the aim of avoiding duplication of effort and agreeing common technical standards.

  8.  The Council does not consider that library and information resources for teaching and learning are under such pressure that its further intervention would be justified. Like other parts of the general academic infrastructure, libraries have come under sustained pressure during a period of increasing student numbers and declining real resources. New arrangements have had to be made to meet this challenge, including for example the provision of "short loan" collections of basic material in heavy demand and the expansion of provision for internet access. We are aware too that many HEIs have been unable to increase library acquisition budgets in line with a rate of increase in prices of books and journals that is often above general inflation and is indirectly exacerbated by the high costs of subscriptions to online research journals. On the other hand, library budgets remain a comparatively small element within overall institutional spending; and the increasing availability of teaching support materials in electronic form, together with changes in the way in which students prefer to access information, seems likely to ease the pressure on hard copy materials within the foreseeable future.

  9.  We are however less optimistic about library and information resources for research. The Council believes these are an essential part of the research infrastructure underpinning the UK's international excellence in research and the developing knowledge economy, and must be provided to the high standard that this implies. HE libraries support the research activities of academic staff—including users from other HEIs—and are used by researchers from outside HE. They also meet the needs of all academic staff in keeping up to date with developments in their own discipline. The achievements of the UK HE sector in research have until now been underpinned by library resources of high quality. This has however required a concerted effort by the country's research libraries, underpinned for the last 10 years by a succession of special initiatives funded by the HEFCE and others to help ensure that the aggregate national provision keeps pace with researchers' needs. (These initiatives are summarised below.)

  10.  The establishment of the Research Support Libraries Group (RSLG) reflects the Council's view that we cannot be confident that resources will continue to be adequate without further targeted action. There will be a particular challenge in maintaining collections of "hard copy" material at their present level while also coping with the increasing volume of material published in electronic form. Although electronic publication is already well established, and is becoming the norm for a few disciplines, there is as yet little sign of any corresponding decline in print publication. We would expect the hybrid landscape of mixed printed and electronic material to be the pattern in most disciplines for a decade at least.

Targeted support for library provision

  11.  The following paragraphs describe briefly a number of special initiatives to support HE library provision in which the Council is, or has recently been, engaged.

  12.  The report in 1993 of the Joint Funding Councils' Libraries Review Group (the "Follett Report") was concerned with the impact on HE libraries of the twin pressures of rising student numbers and IT. This led to a number of special initiatives to support HE libraries including the JISC e-Lib programme to develop the electronic information environment; the first national licensing scheme for electronic journals; and capital grants to a number of HEIs to expand their library buildings with particular emphasis on accommodating more readers. Some £45 million of grant was made available from 1995 under the last heading.

  13.  More recently, the Council has paid special grant to institutions for capital and infrastructure purpose under our strategy for improving poor estates and the research-focussed Joint Infrastructure Fund (jointly with the Research Councils and Wellcome Trust) and the Science Research Infrastructure Fund. These programmes had a rather broader focus than libraries, but all have included significant projects to improve and update library provision in individual HEIs. For example, in the four years from 1998-99 to 2001-02, the Council allocated £284 million to "poor estates" projects. Some £40 million of this was for primarily library-related projects including learning "resources centres", with individual grants of up to £4 million.

  14.  The Council currently pays special grant in support of a number of individual libraries of exceptional research significance; and through a UK wide scheme to support collaborative provision of research libraries more broadly. In the current year we are paying special grants of £1.3 million each to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in recognition of the additional costs which they incur in maintaining "copyright" libraries to the benefit of researchers across HE. We pay a special library grant of £0.8 million to the School of Oriental and Academic Studies in support of its unique provision in area studies. The central libraries of the University of London are supported through a special grant paid to the University in support of a range of activities of national significance.

  15.  The UK wide Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) is funded by the four higher education funding bodies. It has distributed grants of almost £30 million over four years and comes to an end in the summer of 2002. The Programme was designed specifically to support and improve library provision supporting research in HE, with a strong focus on promoting collaboration between the providers. The activities which the Programme has funded are broken down into three strands: collaborative collection management demonstrator projects (in any subject area); projects that provide support for improving access to humanities and social science research collections; and an "access" grant to HEIs with major research holdings libraries, reflecting the costs that these incur in providing facilities for researchers not from the "home" institution. A total of £12.2 million has been awarded to projects under the first two strands, and £5 million per year is distributed under the access strand. The Council has agreed to continue the latter payments in 2002-03 pending the outcome of RSLG.

British Library Collaboration

  16.  In September 1999 the British Library and the HEFCE set up a high level joint task force to identify areas for future collaboration between the British Library and Higher Education (HE). Building on a history of earlier collaborative discussion, the Task Force sought to identify specific initiatives for mutual benefit, in line with the British Library's increasing strategic emphasis on collaboration to deliver its objectives. It sponsored a number of joint studies including work on the barriers to deeper sharing of research resources and a feasibility study for a unified national electronic catalogue of library holdings.

  17.  The British Library and the HEFCE have recently signed a statement of strategic alliance as a basis for future collaboration in both strategic and operational domains.

Research Support Libraries Group

  18.  The four UK higher education funding bodies, the British Library, the National Library of Scotland and the National Library of Wales have established the Research Support Libraries Group (RSLG) under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Follett. This new strategic advisory group will advise on the development of a national strategy to ensure that UK researchers in all disciplines have access to world class information resources over the next decade. We expect to receive the Group's report during October 2002.

Higher Education Funding Council for England

April 2002

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