Examination of Witness (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
160. Of course I understand that you can only
distribute the money that you have available but you said you
were content with the distribution this year. Surely it cannot
be right that a department which has already established its excellence
and maintains that excellence is rewarded with a cut in funding,
as a simple proposition?
(Margaret Hodge) What do you mean?
161. Because the money is distributed to more
departments, the amount of money they have available is less despite
the fact they have maintained a research institute of excellence?
(Margaret Hodge) The options open to HEFCE were to
ignore the results of the 2001 RAE exercise because they have
to live within the quantum that was given them. They are of course
given a three-year settlement not a one-year settlement so they
know the amount of money that is in the pot until the end of this
spending review period, 03/04. You cannot suddenly magic moreit
is not a demand-led budget.
162. I understand. So you are content with it.
I am not, and I would suspect you should not be either.
(Margaret Hodge) I think they used the additional
resources that we were able to find mid-spending review period
for them sensibly. Do I think that we ought to try and get more
money for research overall? Yes. How should it be distributed?
Well, I think that is for the RAE review and I still need to think
about whether, over the longer-term, we ought in that mechanism
to be funding as wide a distribution of quality as we have in
the past, and I think that is one of the issues up for debate
in the review.
163. On 5 and 5* grades, 23 per cent to 55 per
cent in nine years is going the same way as A level results, is
(Margaret Hodge) What are you suggesting?
164. I am suggesting that one interpretation
that could be put on this is it is departments working the system
rather than a reflection of excellence?
(Margaret Hodge) We have thought about, and no doubt
you will reflect on that too. I think what the RAE has successfully
done is focused universities on improving the quality of their
research and I think, if you look at the benchmarking and you
see what has happened to the management of research and what has
happened to the composition of staff working on research, there
has been an improvement in that management of research. Secondly,
if you look at the citations, for instance, which is one of the
measures we have to look for our relative success in research,
we have gone up to 18 per cent
in the last four or five years, which reflects quite a considerable
improvement, so if you look at quality as measured by that, the
RAE reflected the improvement in quality and so did that. Is there
an element of the clever old researchers in the HE sector learning
how to manage the system that they themselves have put in place?
There is probably a slight element but I do not want to overplay
that. I think it is difficult to pull out and say, you know, that
created a percentage improvement in people's RAE ratings. I think
the prime reason that more departments did better is that they
have got better.
165. Humanities get seven years in this exercise:
science and technology gets five years in order to produce material.
Can you justify that?
(Margaret Hodge) That is again a matter for HEFCE
to determine and I think they have been persuaded by the humanities
academics that it takes them that long to find the fruits of their
research. Interestingly enough, one of the things I hope that
the review will do is look at that timeframe in which we undertake
the reassessment of quality. There are various options: is it
right? How can it possibly fit in better with government budget
review timetables? Also, you might argue whether 5 stars need
to be reviewed that often. These are all questions I think up
for the HEFCE review and they will be looking at that and we will
be talking to them about it, but I do not think there is a sort
of, "If everybody accepted that in the world, why should
we question it?"
166. Strengthening research excellence is one
of your department's four priorities along with increased participation,
teaching and technology transfer. Can you rank those in order
(Margaret Hodge) No, I think they are all important.
We have strong ambitions for the higher education sector. You
have probably heard me say before that I think it is a sector
that has suffered from massive under-investment for a generation:
if you look at the cuts in unit funding in universities 36 per
cent over the last decade is massive, and what is so pleasing
really is that they have managed, despite that cut in funding,
to sustain quality and expand numbersquality both in teaching
and quality in researchso I think interestingly enough
for me, with all my experience of various bits of the public sector,
this has been one of the more successful parts of the public sector
in maintaining itself despite expenditure cuts.
167. I have to press you because we hear lot
about priorities and difficult decisions and I am asking you to
prioritise those four things that your department has suggested.
I must press you and try to establish a rank order?
(Margaret Hodge) Why? All I can say to you in response
is our priorities are to expand wider participation and to have
fairer access to universities, so there are two elements to that,
so it is not just more numbers but from a much wider socio-economic
profile of people, so that is one aspect. Improving teaching excellence
is another: maintaining our position for UK plc in terms of research
pre-eminence internationally is another: and strengthening the
links between the HE sector and their regional and local economies
in the business sector is a fourth, so they are all our priorities.
There is nothing wrong in such a broad sector spending quite a
lot of money in response to a lot of priorities.
168. But how can you allocate money if you cannot
rank your priorities?
(Margaret Hodge) First of all, at this point we are
in discussions across government as to how much money each of
those priorities will require, and I cannot see us going for one
and not another. We want to achieve progress in all four. I am
surprised at your questionI am surprised that you see that
one has to prioritise between them. I do not see that. I am trying
to think of another analogy across another service, but if you
were asked which is more important, your constituency role or
your Parliamentary role, you would say you wanted to do both jobs
169. But if I have a million pounds to spend
I will decide how best to spend that money in accordance with
(Margaret Hodge) So will I when it comes to it, and
what we will want to do is to have sufficient resources to support
those four very clear objectives we have set ourselves. I do not
think that is a problem. You have several objectives in your job:
you try to achieve more than one.
170. But I suspect the Chancellor will not allow
you to achieve all your objectives equally and, therefore, there
must be a ranking used to determine how you best spend the money
the Chancellor will give you.
(Margaret Hodge) You are putting some presumptions
behind that. I think across government there is a desire both
for the purpose of inclusion in society to widen and broaden participation,
and there is a desire to strengthen the research-base within universities.
Both are necessary elements in achieving our overall economic
objectives and our overall social inclusion objectives. It is
not an either/or: we need them both. Whether we get enough money
at the end of the day to meet, entirely, programmes that we might
be able to pull out of a bottomless pit is another issue, but
if you are asking me whether I will do one rather than the other,
the answer is no.
171. Following on from that, what interest does
the Treasury take and how is the education budget allocated?
(Margaret Hodge) We work very closely, in a very joined-up
way, with the Treasury and with the DTI on many of these issues
and with No 10, so I am in very close discussions with my colleagues
in DTI, Treasury and No 10 discussing what sort of programme we
wish to put together for the next spending review period and how
the money should be allocated. A lot of research money this time,
for example, the infrastructure money, JIF/SRIF money came through
DTI, the research council's money goes through OSTthere
is a huge importance in getting proper joined-up government and
I have frequent conversations and meetings and everything you
can imagine with colleagues in DTI, OST and the Treasury and No
172. Changing the subject slightly, Universities
UK has said that higher education needs an extra 10 billion over
the next spending review period. Do you feel that accurately reflects
the funding for higher education?
(Margaret Hodge) I have said to Universities UK they
are a very good trade union. If you are at a starting point as
a trade union, you put in a big bid. I think it is slightly over-ambitious
as to where we will end up but I do come from the perspective
that I do think universities have been seriously under-funded
over the last generation. I also think quite properly, in the
first term of the Labour Government, we focused our investment
in education in the nursery and primary sector, and we recognise
this time as a team that we have got to strengthen our investment
and focus more to the secondary, post-16 and HE sector, and I
think that will be reflected in our discussions
173. So you prioritised the nursery sector?
(Margaret Hodge) Yes, we certainly did.
174. In that case, can I draw you back to my
first question which was about ranking those priorities that you
quite rightly put before us?
(Margaret Hodge) Let me put it to you this way: we
prioritised nursery education and did brilliantly on it. We are
finally going to be the Government, as somebody who has campaigned
for it since my son was born some 30 years ago, that has free
nursery education for all 3 and 4 year-olds and I am incredibly
proud of thatas indeed, I hope, are a number of my colleagues
round the table. Equally, we put an 18 per cent increase into
the HE sectorwe did not ignore it. Over the spending review
period they have 1.7 billion which is an 18 per cent growth,
so we did not completely put all our eggs in the nursery basket:
we spread it across. Having said that, however, I think the focus
in this spending review period has to be on addressing some of
the serious under-investment in FE, HE and secondary schools,
and that is where we are putting a lot of our energy. That does
not mean we are going to stop implementing our policy on nursery
education which will require additional resources for us to get
free nursery places for all by September 2004.
175. Let us turn to joined-up government again.
You mentioned lots of departments therethey were flooding
out at one point. In your submission, it says you work closely
with OST to ensure a co-ordinated government approach to the funding
of research. On the other hand HEFCE says that the dual support
system has become unbalanced and research infrastructure has not
been maintained at a pace commensurate with the increase in project
funding. Is it unco-ordinated, in your opinion?
(Margaret Hodge) It is not unco-ordinated but I think
that the JIF and SRIF investments in particular that came through
the DTI were not matched by equal increases in the QR funding
and, therefore, the ratio of QR to other investment has altered
and that is one of the things we need to address. So it is not
that its unco-ordinated but in a sense it is very difficult to
say what we should have done first, and I think that capital investment,
although it required the institutions, as Universities UK said
to you, to find 25 per cent of the money and that caused some
distortion in some budgets of some higher education institutions,
nevertheless that was warmly welcomed and has been a good step
forward. We now have to build on that and consolidate, and make
sure we have the proper revenue funding and that is why there
is a cross-cutting review on these issues and why there is also
the transparency review, to look at the real costs of research.
176. I am sure the Committee welcomes that that
is going to be addressed. We have a memorandum which I am told
is fairly unique from the OST on this very issue of your co-ordinated
approach and so on, and it is very heavily Civil Service speak
(Margaret Hodge) I have not seen it.
177. It is never critical as you read between
the lines but it has said that the recognition of cross-disciplinary
research, the weight accorded industry-funded research and the
ability of universities to exclude active researchers from the
assessment are all problems they would like to see addressed.
Would the OST get involved in HEFCE's review of the RAE process?
(Margaret Hodge) Yes, because they are represented
on HEFCE. John Taylor sits on the HEFCE board.
178. So he speaks for the OST, you are saying,
on that board?
(Margaret Hodge) On that board, yes. He is a member
of the board and HEFCE is very consultative. There really is good
collaboration on trying to get these things better and right.
179. So John Taylor will have a very important
role in communicating the OST view, so it may be that we ought
to ask him what his role will be in that process, and you are
confident the views of OST will be expressed?
(Margaret Hodge) Yes.
2 Note by witness: 18 per cent is the UK share
of the most cited 1 per cent of research papers, up from 11 per
cent around the time of the last RAE. Back
Note by witness: A £1.7 billion, 18 per cent in real
terms, in publicly-planned funding of higher education institutions
in England over the six years to 2003-04. Back