Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 9

Memorandum submitted by the University of Brighton

1.  VALIDITY OF THE RESULTS OF THE 2001 RAE

  The RAE results do represent a genuine improvement in research performance in respect of the volume of high quality research being undertaken in the UK. This is because of:

    —  Better focused management of research within UK universities. This focus is reflected in the reduction in the number of submissions and the stability in the number of submitted staff, combined with a very marked improvement in the quality of research.

    —  Improved quality of staff and opportunities for research development in new (post-1992) university environments.

    —  Development of research capacity in new subjects—such as art and design and health professions.

    —  Expansion of the system—with the growth in teaching staff leading to a matched increase in research growth as the system (especially in new universities) retains more postdoctoral research active staff.

    —  Strategic investment and planning by both government (eg JIF and SRIF initiatives) and individual universities to support both existing high quality research and proven potential for research development.

  Overall it would have been a scandalous failure by government, the funding councils and individual universities if UK research had not clearly improved throughout the past decade. It should not be a matter for surprise that such improvement has now been evidenced in the 2001 RAE just as it was in 1996.

2.  VALUE OF UK RESEARCH IMPROVEMENT EVIDENCED BY THE 2001 RAE

  This improvement in research performance offers significant value to the UK in terms of providing:

    —  Underpinning knowledge and techniques, technology and expertise for manufacturing, service industries, local and central government administration, health social care, education and the cultural industries.

    —  Enhanced international recognition for providing high quality, innovative research environments which will continue to support increased overseas student recruitment and will serve to attract R & D projects to the UK (eg against competition from other states within the European Community).

    —  Enhanced quality of curriculum development and delivery of learning opportunities—especially at honours degree and postgraduate level.

    —  Improved quality of graduates and postgraduates better to support local, regional and national employment needs which in turn will lead to more innovatory and reflective practice within UK industry, commerce, service industries and public services.

3.  FUNDING

  If this position of significant research improvement is to be capitalised on then an expansion of funds (even if not fully commensurate with the increase in quality) is necessary. For example an increase annually of as little as £200 million per year across all the funding councils would produce significant and clearly measurable benefits.

  Without such additional funding there is a danger that a number of distinctive, small and regionally important institutions (with achievements of significant national excellence in research, and clear improvements since 1996) will be significantly damaged by having all their research funding removed. Seventeen English institutions[1] stand to lose all their funding (currently totalling £4 million)—in reality the redistribution of this £4 million to such institutions as Cambridge (current annual funding £64 million), Oxford (£64 million) or Imperial (£56 million) would not significantly affect the capacity of the latter to deliver high quality research, but would seriously undermine the academic infrastructure of the smaller institutions.

  Also the 35 English "new universities" (formerly polytechnics) have made major advances since 1992 in the quality and output of their research —on a total annual HEFCE research grant which is less than the HEFCE research grant of Oxford University alone. Despite achieving an increase from less than 50 grade 5 researchers in 1996 to nearly 500 in 2001(with comparable improvements throughout the whole scale) these universities now face a potential loss of funding of around 33 per cent. There is clear evidence that even with a small improvement in funding (say of the order of £20 million annually) on current levels the new universities could continue their massive contribution to the major improvement in the international standing of UK research achieved during the last decade.

  Such institutions play an important role in addressing local and regional issues through conducting internationally recognised quality research in partnership with the regional community, business and industry. In addition to these direct benefits to the UK, recent performance indicators suggest that many of these institutions, although receiving lower research-support grants, provide better value for money in respect of the return on investment in relation to the production of doctoral students and earned research income than those institutions receiving greater infrastructure research support. Indeed it has been the spur to action provided by the appearance of the leading new universities as serious competitors which has been instrumental in forcing a number of the more complacent "old" universities to take the issue of research management seriously for the first time. It would be a backward step now to remove the possibility for the further extension of this form of healthy competition.

CONCLUSION

  The results of the 2001 RAE are a great success story for the UK and a vindication of the policies of governments of both parties during the 1990s in their commitment to the development of a pluralistic and strong research culture as part of the expansion of a unified higher education system.

  Even if there is insufficient funding available to satisfy the aspirations of all UK universities and HEIs there is no need to undermine the international reputation of UK higher education by suggesting that grade inflation has occurred. It has not.

  However if the government wishes to capitalise on this major success and to sustain and increase the UK's role as a European and world leader in research development then even a small increase of £200m annually—(about 4 per cent of the total funding council grant, if necessary phased in over two years) would make a very significant impact in enabling all researchers and research groups to reach their full potential.

Professor Stuart Laing

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs), University of Brighton

January 2002




1   The seventeen institutions are: Buckinghamshire and Chilterns, Derby, Lincoln, Canterbury Christchurch, Royal College of Nursing, Southampton Institute, Harper Adams, Bretton Hall, UC Chichester, Edge Hill, Worcester UC, Thames Valley, Kent Institute of Art and Design, Surrey Institute of Art and Design, St Mark and St John Plymouth, York St Johns, Newman College. Back


 
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