Response to Recurrent Funding for Research in Higher Education Institutions in Scotland (1993)

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General points and principles

The National Postgraduate Committee welcomes the consultation on the funding of research in Scotland. Given the present climate of research funding, the NPC is in general agreement with the points and principles as outlined in the document.

The National Postgraduate Committee consists of student officers responsible for postgraduates at Student Associations across the country.

Before answering your specific points, we would like to voice our support for the continuation of funding for research students from the SHEFC teaching allocation, with the proviso that they continue to be included in the volume measure in recognition of the fact that the work that students undertake within the course of a research degree may form a large part of the total departmental research output.

Regarding the allocation of a modest proportion of research resources on the basis of specific proposals from institutions, what should be the scale and purposes of this element, and how might these resources be allocated?

The NPC is very pleased to see that the SHEFC is proposing to allocate some funding on the basis of individual proposals, as this will allow departments to undertake new developments and prevent ossification. It also believes the proposal to be an improvement on the DevR system proposed by the HEFCE.

However, bearing in mind the plurality of research funding at present, it believes that that largest proportion of funds should be allocated on a formula basis as this allows institutions greater freedom in long term planning. Long term planning is very important to high quality and productive research.

How should the ratings from the RAE be used in a formula distributing research resources : "J-1" or some modified version?

The "J-1"introduces a high degree of selectivity. To use some non-linear scale is likely to introduce wide fluctuations in departmental research income, which would preclude long term planning and be detremental to the prospects of research students.

Also, weighting the higher rated departments more favourably at the expense of poorer departments will make it much harder for such departments to recover and improve their rating, leading to a reduction in the research base, again to the detriment of postgraduate students.

In the context of the volume measures to be used in conjunction with the results of the RAE in a formula for distributing research resources:-

should these factors be updated on an exceptional basis between RAEs, and how should this be done?

The RAEs, occuring as they do every three years, already occur relatively frequently by academic standards. Three years is less time than it would take for a PhD project to come to fruition. We doubt, therefore, that it would be either wise or worthwhile to introduce the uncertainty of updating volume measures between RAEs.

what are suitable relative weights to apply to each factor?

In the case of volume measures we would again like to emphasise that research students carry out important research work and we are pleased to see that it is intended that this should be taken into account when measuring the volume of research carried out by a department.

Should research funds be allocated with reference to the RAE ratings for applied research, and if so should these ratings be incorporated with the ratings for basic and strategic research within a single formula, or would a separate element of research funding be more appropriate?

Research funding should be allocated with respect to applied research ratings. If the principle of coverage and accessability of funding to all institutions is to be met, the possibility of a department with a high standard rating and lower basic rating cannot be ignored, especially considering that it is generally believed that research in the "New Universities" tends to be of a more applied nature. Most applied research is not "near market".

Should a minor part of research funds be distributed by reference to external research income, and if so what should be the scope of such funding?

While it could be argued that since external research income is included in the RAE and therefore any support of such funding would be double counting, we feel that there is a strong case for retainiw some funding element to be allocated on the basis of EC or charities funding.

In the case of the EC funding, a fixed limit is placed on the overhead contribution, and some institutions are reconsidering accepting these contracts. The fixed nature of the overhead contribution means that it cannot therefore be argued that institutions would use any SHEFC contribution to reduce the cost to the purchaser. Funding for such projects should be looked upon as an incentive to win such contracts, which benefit the country as a whole.