Memorandum from Professor Alastair Fitter,
University of York
1.1. The activities undertaken by the University
demonstrate the benefits that accrue by having a HEI with a strong
research profile within a region.
1.2. Further concentration of research resources
would have a negative impact on the regions, particularly those
in the North of England
1.3. Whilst additional funding to Grade
4 departments would be welcomed, funding for Grade 5 and 5* departments
must be protected.
1.4. The introduction of teaching only departments
would be wholly inappropriate and would not be implemented at
a research intensive institution such as York.
2.1. The University of York is a research
intensive institution. Its ratio of research to teaching income
is amongst the highest in the sector, as is the level of research
grants and contracts that it attracts per member of academic staff.
At the same time, it has also demonstrated its ability to engage
actively with the region, and it works closely with both the RDA
(Yorkshire Forward) and the City of York Council. This engagement,
particularly in the area of science and technology, has been recognised
as an example of good practice by government, in both the White
Paper on "The Future of Higher Education" and the Lambert
Review of Business-University Collaboration. It is these two roles,
of international research and engagement in the region, which
give a particular insight into the difficulties of science provision
in the English Higher Education environment.
3. THE IMPACT
3.1. The result of the HEFCE formula for
funding research has been increased concentration of funding towards
departments graded 5 or above. Whilst there has been some additional
funding for exceptional 5* (6*) departments, funding for 5 and
5* has remained essentially constant in real terms. However, the
unit of resource for Grade 4 departments fell by 42% between pre-RAE
2001 and 2003-04; for Grade 3a departments funding has now disappeared.
Research in these departments is not `poor'; Grade 4's undertake
research which is nationally excellent, with some excellence at
international level. Moreover, at the same time as the changes
to the unit of resource have been implemented, the weighting given
to high cost science subjects was reduced from 1.7 to 1.6.
3.2. The impact of this reduction in QR
funding has been particularly acute for science departments due
to fixed infrastructure costs. The Transparency Review has already
identified that external research funding does not cover the full
economic costs; the implementation of Full Economic Costing (FeC)
is therefore very welcome, especially for Science departments.
3.3. TRAC has successfully identified to
government that the current research grant methodology is unsustainable,
and has also highlighted to institutions that research is being
supported from teaching and other income, particularly in science.
This is a long-standing problem that has been exacerbated by the
HEFCE research formula changes, and has led in some institutions
to the closure or realignment of departments. The University of
York made a strategic decision to maintain and build all its Departments,
irrespective of RAE2001 performance, and has successfully implemented
this strategy in this challenging financial environment.
3.4. The new grading methodology may alleviate
some problems, but will not apply until 2008-09; until then, many
institutions will be subsidising their most badly affected departments,
making strategies such as that implemented at York very costly.
The new assessment methodology will remove the cliff edge effect,
but we do not know how it will be applied to funding. This uncertainty
is unhelpful when trying to develop long-term strategies.
4. THE DESIRABILITY
4.1. Research funding is already highly
concentrated with 40% of HEFCE R funds going into the Oxford/Cambridge/London
triangle, and the top four institutions attracting 30% of entire
QR funding available. Research funding could not be further concentrated
without adverse impact on other regions, notably in the north,
potentially removing research active science from some. Further
concentration of research funding would make it more difficult
for an institution to develop new research areas, due to the lead
time required to establish a research profile, gain RAE recognition
and hence attract QR funding. Institutions may also be unwilling
to participate in regional activities that may not contribute
to RAE success.
4.2. Further concentration would also inevitably
lead to more closures of science departments for the reasons noted
earlier. Loss of science provision within a region is a cause
for serious concern: in terms of regional development, the presence
of an institution actively undertaking research into science and
technology is a key driver of success. The engagement of such
an institution with the region, as demonstrated by the Science
City York, a collaboration between the University and the City
Council which supports the Regional Economic Strategy, shows the
benefits that a strong presence in the region can have.
5. THE IMPLICATIONS
5.1. HEFCE teaching income is essentially
a block grant, so technically changing the teaching weightings
should not automatically increase or decrease the overall grant.
However, when looking at the long term sustainability of a department,
the HEFCE funding model is invariably used within institutions
to determine a department's income generating capacity.
5.2. The recent consultation on teaching
funding formula was in the context of no additional funding. In
this context, it would be unacceptable for weightings for those
science subjects currently under review to be increased to the
detriment of funding for other areas. This was the situation that
arose following the recent HEFCE rebanding exercise for Computer
Science and Psychology at York, who have suffered a significant
decrease in their HEFCE T funding. Both of these 6* departments
are highly science-orientated and it would be unfortunate for
such changes in teaching funding to impact on their teaching and
5.3. It should be remembered that HEFCE
significantly reduced the teaching unit of resource, in order
to set up funding for the retention of students associated with
its Widening Participation initiatives. Though welcoming HEFCE
recognition of the additional costs of widening participation,
it is disappointing that such costs have been funded from mainstream
teaching income. The reduction in the unit of resource will have
had a larger effect on the income for science departments, due
to their higher proportion of income derived from the funding
6. THE OPTIMAL
6.1. Teaching-only departments would be
inappropriate at a University such as York, which submitted 93%
of its academic staff in the last RAE and which also has an outstanding
teaching record. There are benefits to students of a diverse mix
of postgraduate and undergraduate students, and a strong link
between the quality of research and the quality of teaching, particularly
at advanced levels such as 3rd and 4th year teaching and in Masters'
courses. A strong research profile allows the institution to attract
excellent staff, who undertake cutting-edge research and can engage
students in their subjects. This in turn produces well qualified
and highly motivated graduates. The University of York has set
the optimal balance of teaching to research so that all staff
are able to dedicate at least 40% of their time to research, the
rest being for teaching and administrative duties. We believe
that 40% is a necessary minimum for staff to be able to produce
internationally excellent research. However, even (perhaps especially)
within top research departments, there is an important role for
individual staff whose primary focus is teaching; these staff
make a crucial contribution to such departments.
6.2. Research-active departments have other
benefits for students. They allow student access to equipment
that would not be available in teaching-only departments. This
is particular useful for students undertaking final year projects
and allows students to familiarise themselves with equipment and
new techniques. Models may need to be considered whereby students
in less research-intensive institutions can gain experience of
more research-led teaching at more research intensive institutions.
7. THE IMPORTANCE
7.1. The important role that a research-active
higher education institution can play in the development of a
region has already been mentioned briefly above. It is recognised
in the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Economic Strategy and the
Sub-Regional Investment Plan. As highlighted in the Chancellor's
Pre-Budget Report, the need to invest in Science in the regions
is vital. The University of York, together with Yorkshire Forward
and York City Council, has already developed a successful model
of engagement via Science City York. It welcomes the further investment
that the Chancellor has foreshadowed in identifying York as one
of three "Science Cities" to be promoted in the north.
Science City York has already created over 1,600 new jobs between
1998 and 2002, over 250 new high technology companies and substantial
indirect employment. In a region with below average industrial
R&D investment and a significant number of SMEs, this achievement
demonstrates the advantages of a strong HEI science presence in
order to support SMEs, expand knowledge transfer and develop new
ideas. Without a strong regional HEI capacity there will neither
be the expert knowledge base nor skilled graduates with which
to encourage further business development. It should not be expected
that all institutions would offer all science disciplines, but
there is a need for at least some science and technology provision
in the region.
7.2. The University of York is also active
in other regional initiatives including the White Rose University
Consortium (Leeds, Sheffield and York) and the Northern Way (North
of England Science Initiative: Universities of Durham, Newcastle;
Leeds, Sheffield, York; Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester). These
broader alliances have further potential to drive economic regeneration,
but are only achievable among research-active University partners.
8. THE EXTENT
8.1. Government cannot directly intervene,
without seriously compromising the autonomy of institutions. In
order to encourage institutions to continue with science provision,
the government needs to ensure that the funding available is sufficient
to ensure financial viability. This must be additional funding
and not a reallocation from other activities. To penalise Grade
5 and 5* departments in order to support those with lower research
grades would put the international standing of UK science at risk.
8.2. The Funding Council has previously
allowed institutions to bid for additional funding for other minority
subjects, most notably languages. However, such funding tends
to be for a limited period and it is not clear that it has significantly
halted the reduction in provision in the long term. It is suggested
that one key element might be the acceptance that for certain
subjects, there are underlying infrastructure costs that apply,
regardless of the level of research activity. This would improve
the financial viability of such departments.
8.3. Aside from financial support, government
can support a healthy research base in three ways:
(i) by ensuring that science is more actively
promoted within schools. Institutions will struggle to recruit
science undergraduates unless there is a flow of students undertaking
science subjects at GCSE and A level in school, or via other more
(ii) by ensuring that Government-funded science
is appropriately located in the country. Interactions between
Universities and major research institutes can offer an important
environment for new developments;
(iii) by encouraging industrial R&D and
interactions between business and universities, especially on
a regional basis.