Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Dr Tina Overton, University of Hull

The impact of HEFCE's research funding formulae, as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings, on the financial viability of university science departments;

  The funding formula means that all but highest rated science departments are in deficit to their institution. The current funding formula for research will inevitably lead to closures of 3 and 4 rated science departments as VCs balance their books. This is seen as a far more important factor than undergrad recruitment. Recent closures have been of departments in which recruitment was bouyant.

The desirability of increasing the concentration of research in a small number of university departments, and the consequences of such a trend;

  The consequences of such a trend is that science teaching will also be concentrated in a small number of departments as teaching only science departments are unsustainable financially. Science provision will consequently disappear from a large proportion of HE and large swathes of the country. Recruitment to science will diminish as it becomes a marginalised discipline rather than a main stream one.

The implications for university science teaching of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the teaching funding formula;

  The teaching funding formula does not support science teaching and departments rely on cross subsidy from research streams to maintain staff and equipment levels. If departments rated lower than 5* in RAE are to survive an increase in the unit of funding for science is essential.

The optimal balance between teaching and research provision in universities, giving particular consideration to the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science departments;

  The balance should rightly vary across the sector but research engagement within a science dept is desirable if graduates are to useful to industry. Fossilisation could easily take place in a rapidly developing discipline. Financial viability of teaching only science is doubtful without a change in funding formula.

The importance of maintaining a regional capacity in university science teaching and research;

  As undergraduates (particularly WP student) stay at home to study regional provision is essential unless we accept that science is of no strategic importance to the UK. Science education must not come elite, available only in a small number of institutions. The law of diminishing returns means that we need to recruit large numbers of undergrads to provide sufficient graduates for industry. Graduates from elite institutions are less likely to go into industry and commerce but will stay in academia here and abroad.

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 purpose.

  A difficult one given the desirable autonomy of institutions. But the decline in science provision is funding driven so the funding formula could readily address this issue and make science more secure and desirable for VCs.

January 2005

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