Response to the Funding of Research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (1993)

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General points and principles

Given the present climate of research funding, presupposing a plurality of resources of funding, the NPC is in agreement with the points and principles as outlined in the document. However, there are certain points which will be discussed later which we feel may be difficult to adhere to.

The scope of the funding method.

The NPC supports the proposal that HEFCE funds should be to support basic and strategic research, and that commissioned and near market research should be funded in the main by the sponsoring body.

We would like to voice our support for the continuation of funding for research students from the HEFCE teaching allocation, with the proviso that recognition is made 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, and there should be adequate recognition of this.

The allocation method.

The NPC, under less constrained circumstances would support the allocation of research funds by a purely formula basis.
That the formula should be largely performance based and that some funding allocation should be available in order to encourage the development of new areas of research seems a logical method taking into account the expertise available in the HEFCE, the ease of use of the Research Assessment exercise and the principles of the HEFCE as already outlined.

The elements of the funding method.

(i) Following the introduction of the Research Assessment exercise, it would seem to be illogical to introduce another method of estimating the quality of research in any department or institution.

However the NPC has to emphasise that the suggestion that applied research ratings awarded in the RAE be ignored appears to negate the importance of RAE ratings at all. 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

(ii) The use of research ratings must also be carefully considered in the light of the principle for the provision of new initiatives. Excluding departments with ratings of 1 or 0 will discriminate particularly against new research centres emerging between Research Assessment exercises, and reduce the potential and inclination for a department receiving a low rating to improve. Consider for example a new institution which has no RAE rating, therefore receives no HEFCE funding and has to attract monies from external sources to support research in order to receive HEFCE funding. Additionally receipt of funding from outside bodies such as industrial sponsors may actively preclude future funding from the HEFCE. In the present economic climate this situation will effectively prevent the emergence of such new centres, being in total opposition to the principle of prevention of ossification. The NPC would therefore like to suggest, as a means for reducing this problem, that each institution may nominate a few departments of rating 0-1 for consideration for funding from the DevR allocation. This would result in institutions assessing departments internally, reducing the burden of assessment falling on the HEFCE. This would also make the DevR component truly fund the development of research in England.

(iii) In the case of volume measures we would again like to emphasise that research students carry out important research work and this should be taken into account when measuring the volume of research carried out in any department.

(iv) Finally addressing external research income and the future of the DR and CR elements of the present UFC funding method, the NPC is concerned with the proposal to remove the DR component completely. With the transfer of funds to the research councils this component now effectively supports charity-funded research. With the abolition of this component the charities would have to increase the funding the offer to institutions to cover overheads. There is little doubt that this would force many charities to withdraw funding from University based research affecting the standard of particularly scientific and medical research in Britain, which is widely regarded as some of the best in the world. The withdrawal of this component also creates an anomaly in the keeping of the CR component particularly as this supports "an increasing amount of Government and EC research funds .... which support research of a fundamental nature". The justification of the retention of the CR component on the grounds of supporting fundamental research may equally be applied to the DR component, and in the present economic climate it may be supposed that the charities are less able to absorb overhead costs that the Government. Therefore, if the HEFCE is determined to remove this component from the funding formula, the NPC would suggest that both CR and DR are phased out over the next few years (and the appropriate monies transferred to the remaining formula components), thus allowing both charities and other funding bodies to gradually absorb the cost of overheads.