Memorandum from the University of Oxford
Q1. The impact of HEFCE's research funding
formulae, as applied to research assessment exercise ratings,
on the financial viability of the university's science departments.
To protect science research, it is essential
that research selectivity applied by HEFCE in respect of its QR
funding is maintained. This is especially so if the UK is to maintain
international competitiveness. If funds are limited, they must
be concentrated in the most successful and competitive departments.
The level of overall public funding must cover
the full costs of the research it supports, and the relationship
between HEFCE QR and other funding from research councils is critical.
FEC will help but the transition to full FEC will not be complete
until at least 2010.
Q2. The desirability of increasing the concentration
of research in a small number of university departments, and the
consequences of such a trend.
Maintenance of research selectivity at least
at its present level is essential for the reasons stated above.
It is likely that funding pressures will require some further
increase in the concentration of research, but this is essential
if excellence and international competitiveness are to be maintained.
There are downsides: too few departments risk
reducing national viability and critical mass, and undermining
the ability to train enough graduate students. The highest quality
undergraduate teaching also requires a good research interface.
Q3. The implications for university science
teaching of changes in the weightings given to science subjects
in the teaching funding formula.
The squeezing of differentials
between clinical medicine and laboratory-intensive sciences on
the one hand, and other subjects on the other in the HEFCE teaching
funding formula has not been welcomed. It has (in effect) allowed
a shift of resource away from experimental science subjects. This
does not, in our experience, reflect the increasing complexity
and cost of experimental sciences. There are difficulties at the
margin in disentangling research related from teaching related
costs, but experimental teaching laboratories are expensive to
equip and operate, and for example new safety legislation has
also increased costs.
Q4. The optimal balance between teaching and
research provision in universities giving particular consideration
to the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science
There is no single "optimal balance".
In this university we see a vital link between teaching on the
one hand and the maintenance of high international quality research
capacity on the other. This is especially so in postgraduate and
doctoral training. HEFCE's new Research Capability Fund will enable
the development of research capacity in emerging subjects, and
changes to the method for allocating HEIF funding will give less
research intensive universities the potential to access this source
of funds. Clearly, it is essential that good teaching should be
informed by the outcome of good research, but it is impossible
to return to a situation where all teaching departments are funded
at a similar level to undertake research: as indicated above,
the continuance of research selectivity at least at its current
level is essential for UK science.
Q5. The importance of maintaining a regional
capacity in university science teaching and research.
Given the increase in costs to students on first
degrees, it is important to maintain good regional capacity in
university science teaching. However, it does not follow from
this that there needs to be an equally strong regional dimension
in research, and the desirability of an even regional spread of
high-quality research in universities cannot possibly outweigh
the need to maintain national and international excellence through
maintenance of research selectivity.
Q6. The extent to which the Government should
intervene to make sure continuing provision of subjects of strategic
national or regional importance; and the mechanisms it should
use for this purpose.
Current selectivity in the distribution of QR
by HEFCE should at least be maintained. The Government's FEC initiative
is also vital, and move from 80% to 100% by Research Councils
should take place as soon as possible, so that universities can
recover the full costs of the research they undertake and thereby
become able to invest responsibly in their faculties and departments.
But the Government's role must be to provide the funding and strategic
framework to enable HEIs to function effectively. We do not support
moves which would lead to the Government directly interfering
in the academic and research priorities of individual universities.
Government's role is to provide adequate funding, and to enable
universities to charge full cost prices for their research. In
the case of teaching, Government needs to move as rapidly as possible
to enable universities to recover the full costs of their teaching:
even with the £3K fee, unit prices for teaching in experimental
sciences are seriously inadequate.
We would make four general points about the
(1). To protect science research it is essential
that the research selectivity via QR, and the Government's FEC
initiative are maintained and funded.
(2). On teaching, the main problem is the
continued underfunding of both graduate and undergraduate science
programmes for home/EU students; the £3K undergraduate fee
will only go a small part of the way to overcoming this. There
are particular problems associated with attracting able graduates
to remain in research after their first degree, because of the
relatively low salaries for postdoctoral workers and contract
(3). The decline of science in maintained
schools, especially single science options, and too few qualified
teachers at that level, is a problem which needs careful investigation
since it affects recruitment to universities' science degree programmes.
(4). As the Select Committee knows, there
are issues concerning rewards and recruitment in university science
careers which reduce their attractiveness.
6 The weighting for clinical medicine was reduced
from 4.5 to 4.0; and the weighting for laboratory science from
2.0 to 1.7. Back