Memorandum from Professor Stuart Palmer,
University of Warwick
The University of Warwick is concerned about
the potential effect of closures of science departments in other
universities across England upon the vitality of the science community,
research and opportunities for students, should this be a continuing
Warwick believes that the closure of departments
has arisen from a combination of factors including changes in
the research and teaching formula, the deadline in popularity
of science subjects reflected in falling university applications
and A level study and the increasingly difficult financial position
of many universities as a result of an overall decline in the
unit of resource. Universities are inevitably focusing upon deficit
activities to produce savings in a management environment which
encourages transparency, accountability and value for money.
The University recognises the need for increasing
selectivity of research funding formulae as applied to Research
Assessment Exercise (RAE) weightings, noting the significant cost
of infrastructure required to conduct world leading and internationally
significant research in science. It may be inevitable therefore
that some universities may disengage from research and focus upon
scholarship or other applied activities. However, the interaction
between research and teaching is fundamental to inform the currency
and progress of the subject, and to the continuing supply of scientists
to underpin the research base (as identified in the Roberts Review
of Science in 2002). The University believes that whilst there
may be a place for teaching only provision at eg Foundation degree
level, there is an optimal number of research intensive departments
to ensure adequate supply of high quality scientists and teachers
and to foster a vibrant national research community which will
attract and retain the best scientists within this country.
However, the impact of increasing selectivity
has been to significantly reduce income to institutions from HEFCE
where RAE grade positions have fallen. The recurrent investment
required in infrastructure, equipment and staffing cannot be quickly
responsive to changes in the funding formula. The change in the
teaching funding methodology for 2004-05 has reduced the relative
resource for the science subjects covered by the Inquiry (by -3.4%).
This has exacerbated the financial income position of departments
which may also be experiencing difficulties in recruitment due
to national decline in applications in some subjects.
The Committee should note that the HEFCE formula
is a block grant and therefore institutions can and do determine
where funding flows to individual departments, and subsidise activity
which is key to the University's mission and strategy. Warwick
has sustained key strategic areas of activity, and has been able
to do this through strategic investment of surpluses derived from
other sources of private income. However it is inevitable that
universities facing financial difficulties will focus upon activities
requiring substantial subsidy and apply the HEFCE funding model
to identify these areas.
Warwick does not believe that the Government
or HEFCE should actively intervene to prevent closure of departments
or dictate supply of subjects provided by individual Universities.
Improvements to the overall unit of resource will facilitate the
ability of institutions to subsidise activity which is key to
the strategic aims of the institution and the country. The Government
should ensure that the HEFCE funding methodology does not erode
the unit of resource for science teaching and research further.
Where institutions decide upon closure of activity in light of
strategic interest, the Government may wish to consider ways of
facilitating transfers of research expertise (eg through transitional
funding) and the redistribution of national and regional impact
of supply of student places to mitigate the effect.