Memorandum from the Association of University
Research and Industrial Links (AURIL)
AURIL is the UK's national Association for Knowledge
Transfer professionals and others who work in or with Higher Education
concerned with the generation, development, dissemination, application,
commercialisation and transfer of knowledge for both UK well being
and economic competitiveness.
At present, individual membership stands at
a total of 1,600 and all UK Universities are represented. Most
recently, steps have been taken to form the Institute of Knowledge
Transfer (IKT) as the UK national overarching body for professional
standards in the field and which will embrace all UK organisations
concerned with knowledge transfer within and beyond the Higher
AURIL welcomes the opportunity to present evidence
to the Science and Technology Committee and has prepared its submission
in accordance with the points contained in its announcement of
the inquiry into Strategic Science provision in English Universities
(Tuesday 21 December 2004).
The impact of HEFCE's research funding formulae,
as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings, on the financial
viability of university science departments.
HEFCE has developed its research funding formulae
over several separate Research Assessment Exercises since their
inception in 1989 and have remained consistent to the principles
of recognising and resourcing Research excellence in UK universities,
whatever it is identified by the peer review process utilised
to provide the national ratings which arose for each exercise,
and on an increasingly more selective basis.
The precise nature of the Research funding formulae
is not know at the time of each RAE although the principles to
be used in delivering research excellence are known in advance
of each exercise and have been derived from comprehensive consultation
with and beyond the sector.
Given finite resources for research, the funding
formulae have reflected genuine excellence as measured on an intentional
scale and in accordance with the principle of selectivity. There
has been a good correlation between the allocation of resources
for research through RAE and those won by open competition in
the form of research grants and contracts from all other research
funders including the UK Research Councils.
At the same time, the Treasury's Transparency
exercise has demonstrated that Research in all UK universities
has not been run at a surplus over many years. Resources have
simply not been adequate to cover the full costs of all research
being carried out. New resources for research are being used,
together, with new methodologies to ensure full economic costing,
such that universities can retrieve this situation.
There is no evidence, in AURIL's view, to show
that the particular operation of the research funding formulae
has disadvantaged University science departments per se.
The financial viability of all science departments
results from the trading performance of those departments from
all activities and all income streamsteaching and learning,
research and other trading services (eg commercialisation etc).
Whilst it is true that universities allocate resources internally
in a variety of different ways, many simply reflect the ways that
those resources flow into the University.
Some universities would argue that the sharpness
of the funding divide between those rated 4 and those rated 5
as reflected in the funding formulae, has been a particular challenge.
No funding is allocated via QR for departments rated below 4.
In particular, the problem of "islands of excellence"
within larger, less well-rated departments, presents a difficulty
of sustainability but, as long as both the funding formulae for
research and the RAE itself are based upon subject groupings,
pockets of excellence must be a matter for individual universities
The desirability of increasing the concentration
of research in a small number of university departments and the
consequences of such a trend.
The increasing use of the principle of selectivity
in the allocation of resources for research together with that
of separating and accounting separately for funds allocated for
teaching and learning and for research will inevitably concentrate
sustainable research in fewer and fewer departments. Principles
of the full economic costing will also continue to bear down on
research which is not sustainable in the longer term. Assuming
that it remains desirable only to fund research of the highest
quality as measured by national and international excellence,
this trend will continue. It should be remembered that there is
no place for funding second rate research nor should there be
as earlier command economy experiences demonstrate.
The implications for University science teaching
of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the
teaching funds formula
Presumably, unless additional resources were
involved, any such changes would be to the detriment of other
non-science based subjects. Any movement towards privileging science
subjects in the teaching formulae should be carefully considered
Student numbers are clearly an issue in this
discussion. Fewer science students with appropriate qualifications
means less resources, a diminution of quality and a steady decline.
Taken together with falling research funding the continuing financial
viability of a given department comes into question. Some science
subjects might simply become uneconomic to teach for some universities
who cannot afford to continue with the high level of investment
necessary to sustain them.
The optimal balance between teaching and research
provision in universities, giving particular consideration to
the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science
As autonomous institutions regarded as being
businesses in the private sector, this must really be a matter
for individual universities to decide on the basis of their individual
missions, academic strategies and business projections. It cannot
be a case of single solution applicable to all universities. As
far as knowledge transfer is concerned commercialisation can occur
from knowledge used in teaching and learning research or from
both. The entrepreneurial culture can pervade both. A teacher
or a researcher is regarded more widely as a core academic value.
The adoption of full economic costing approaches will mean that
financial viability must be considered for all activities, dependant
or independent teaching and learning and research whatever the
pedagogic relationship espoused by some for a link between the
two. It is strongly argued by some that as science is based upon
experimentation and observation there is a firm benefit where
science teaching takes place in a research environment and students
gain experience of research culture alongside their syllabus.
It is further suggested that, rightly or wrongly, student choice
of course and University is based, in part, on an understanding
of research reputation.
It should be remembered that science discipline
teaching can take place across the University irrespective of
its configuration into faculties, schools or departments at any
Thus, even where closure takes place, this does
not necessarily imply loss of capacity because on-going research
can be embedded in other departments and courses can continue
to be taught across other remaining departments.
The importance of maintaining a regional capacity
in University science teaching and research.
It is not clear that regional economic strategic
need can only be addressed, as far as access to science is concerned,
if capacity exists in local universities. The relationship between
university research and regional economic activity has long been
synenogous in England at least, but, over time, it has been a
dynamic relationship with economic activities and needs changing
as some areas decline and others rise. It is important that regions
retain science skills in the workforce and foster technology-based
economic development but this can be done by accessing the relevant
University wherever it exists in the UK or Europe. This has long
been the case.
Any attempt to maintain artificial regional
science capacity could lead to a loss of excellence. If regional
development agencies seek to underpin regional science capacity
resources that should only be allocated on the basis of perceived
excellence in research and teaching as measured by national parameters
and performance metrics.
The extent to which the government should intervene
to ensure continuing provision of subjects of strategic national
or regional importance and the mechanisms it should use for this
Government should intervene only by:
continuing to enhance the amount
of resources available overall for allocation for research and
teaching through HEFCE
continuing to stimulate market demand
among businesses and employers in the UK to acquire science-based
research and science graduates as the route to their own global
Continuing to stimulate at primary
and secondary levels to take up science-based subjects in order
to maintain a flow of able and excellent students and researchers
for the next and subsequent generations.
Continuing to stimulate the science
base to transfer knowledge as effectively as possible in the post-Lambert