Memorandum from Loughborough University
This is one of the most important reviews conducted
by the Select Committee and we welcome the opportunity to input
to it. We would be very pleased to provide any further information
that to the Committee that would be of help to your deliberations.
The issues raised by the Committee are at the
heart of a university's governance and strategy, and inevitably
there are many factors. The key is the determination of the Council
and staff of the university to sustain a successful and vibrant
science base in the institution, but external factors have made
that a huge challenge. We are proud at Loughborough that we sustain
vibrant grade 4 Physics and Chemistry Departments, both of which,
with the rest of Science and Engineering, recruited UK/EU undergraduates
to target in October this yearindeed Chemistry over-recruited.
We comment in turn on the questions you raise.
1. The impact of HEFCE's research funding
formulae, as applied to RAE ratings, on the financial viability
of university science departments:
There is no doubt that the funding ratios of
roughly 1: 2.8: 3.3 have been damaging for grade 4 departments.
They have also no rational basis. For example, they are more selective
than would be justified by supporting only research of international
excellence and providing zero funding for research of national
excellence (according to definitions of RAE grades). As has been
analysed by our Vice-Chancellor (see Research Fortnight 15 October
2003), reasonable assumptions and private data suggest that ratios
of roughly 1: 2: 3 would be the highest one could justify on the
basis of RAE criteria of excellence.
2. The desirability of increasing the concentration
of research in a small number of university departments, and the
consequences of such a trend:
As background, it is important to recognise
that Loughborough has excellent indicators of research activity.
As far as externally funded research per academic staff costs
are concerned, given our subject mix we have regained top position
as the most research intensive university in the UK. This is according
to the performance indicators published by HESA.
Five members of senior staff have been chosen
as RAE 2008 sub-panel chairs, equal with Oxford and second only
to Cambridge who have sixremarkable given the relative
size and subject breadth of these institutions. Although supporters
of selectivity, we believe that further concentration of research
funding would do more damage than any benefit it would bring.
At the heart of our concerns is that it is essential
that the purpose of QR funding from HEFCE is clearly re-articulated.
This is in the light of the move to full economic costing of research
and the change in funding of postgraduate research programmes.
The latter move has eliminated the QR income we will receive from
overseas research students. The loss to Loughborough is of the
order of £1 million and the effect will be far worse for
other, larger institutions with a higher proportion of overseas
PhD students. The changes are intended to be cost neutral but
it is unclear how this will happen through QR allocation.
3. The implications for university science
teaching of changes in the weightings given to science subjects
in the teaching funding formula:
The crisis in science teaching in schools and
the associated lack of demand for university places in Physics,
Chemistry and Mathematics have meant that HEIs have to use their
much needed resource in determined efforts to widen participation
and achievement at school as well as to recruit to these subjects
in order to ensure departmental viability.
Importantly recent changes (2003-04) in HEFCE
policy has further exacerbated this situation. I refer specifically
to the decision to cut the funding base to teach students with
more than 17 A-level points. This was to release funds to support
widening participation. Unfortunately this policy hit funding
for science based subjects particularly hard where it is very
necessary to recruit well-qualified students. Given our subject
mix we were cut by effectively 4% in real terms, and lost c £1
million in funding. Around 14 other HEIs also lost net funding
in this change. We fest this was perverse given our reputation
in assisting business and industry and our graduate employment
The history of HEFCE weights for teaching is
complex. Prior to the recent changes, non-lab, intermediate and
full-lab were in the ratio 1: 1.5: 2 (and 4 for clinical subjects).
In the Autumn of 2003 HEFCE consulted on proposed
weights and suggested an additional band with the ratios 1 : 1.3
: 1.6 : 2 with the last to include Chemical Engineering, Chemistry,
Materials and Physics. This change would have seriously undermined
our science and engineering subjects. It was a further shock when,
after consultation, HEFCE implemented bands of 1 : 1.3 : 1.7.
We feel these are not better than the previous weights and continue
therefore to use 1 : 1.3 : 1.85. Ironically, we have therefore
moved from cross-subsidising non-lab-based to subsidising lab-based
HEFCE defend their strategy in part by referring
to the "block grant" nature of the HEFCE funding, ie
they should allocate HEFCE funding as they best see fit. This
freedom is largely a chimera. Universities are increasingly transparent
in their funding streams and cost-apportionment. It is extremely
difficult in an open and collegiate environment to sustain large
deviations from income-streaming over an extended period. With
the pressures on academics, the elasticity of collegiality is
limited. It will be vital for HEIs in the future to be able to
take collegiate decisions on other than financial grounds (ironically,
now that we have them!).
With a view to ensuring the health of the science
base reducing the teaching weight from 2 to 1.7 was the wrong
message to send to University Senates and Councils.
4. The optimal balance between teaching and
research provision in universities, giving particular consideration
to the desirability and financial viability of teaching-only science
At Loughborough we strongly believe that teaching
in a university department must be research-led. We do not consider
teaching-only science departments to be desirable. That is not
to say we insist on being funded to conduct research in every
aspect of a science subject we teach. In areas of a subject which
are outside the immediate research interests of our staff we ensure
the highest levels of scholarship are maintained. In this way
our teaching is delivered "in the spirit of mutual enquiry",
5. The importance of maintaining a regional
capacity in university science teaching and research:
It is increasingly important that universities
reach out into their local regions. We welcome schemes such as
"Researchers in Residence" and funding for the "public
understanding of science". The former associates PhD students
with local schools. This is to be welcomed as any schemes which
burden academic staff with further responsibility would be difficult
to reconcile given the pressures they already find themselves
Maintaining a regional capacity in university
science research is largely driven by regional demand, dictated
by the regions' business/industry base. Loughborough has strong
connections with business and industry and works closely with
our regional development agency.