Examination of Witness (Questions 156
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
156. Thank you for taking the time to come and
visit us today. I do not think you have been in front of this
Committee before. You know that we are doing the Research Assessment
Exercise and you have heard how important that is in determining
allocations of funds and so onnever 100 per cent popular
but we are looking into the whole process. The previous witnesses
described parts of this as a slap in the face to the academicsI
think it was the grade 3s and so onso there is a little
disquiet out there and yet you have announced 30 million extra
to fund it next year which is about 3.5 per cent or so. How did
you get to 30 million? How hard did you fight for that? Should
it have been 60? How did you get to that figure?
(Margaret Hodge) First of all, let me say that there
is a misunderstanding about the purpose of the RAE. The RAE is
not there to determine the quantum of money that the Government
invests in the research infrastructure; it is there to assess
the qualitythe relative qualityto give a mechanism
for then distributing the quantum decided by the Government. I
do not get the vibes you do, Chairman, about it being a hated
exercise by academicsmaybe we talk to different academics.
I think it is a peer review exercise which has a lot of credibility
in the HE sector, and I also think the vibes I got after the results
were announced this time were that a lot of people were chuffed
with themselves. If I can give you a few statistics, the number
of staff who are now in 5/5* departments has risen to 55 per cent
of those who were entered compared to 31 per cent in the 1996
exercise, so that is something of which the research community
should be proud and which UK plc should be proud. Clearly, within
the quantum, it became impossible to maintain the formula that
had been used for the 1996 distribution. We are anxious to sustain
a good research capacity in the UK. I heard when I came in how
well we are doing in terms of citations worldwide and so on, and
we want to sustain and maintain that, so we found 30 million from
an underspendwhich was the maximum we could findwhich
will hold the fort. It is a one-off but it will hold the fort
between now and the comprehensive spending review settlement when
it may not surprise you to learn we are going to be seeking additional
resources for research and other things in universities.
157. The Welsh Assembly went up to 11.5 per
cent. How do you feel about that? Have they allocated more money
to their research? That is lucky guess, is it?
(Margaret Hodge) Devolution!
158. Well, I think there is the answer for London
and East Anglian universities. Was it your decision or HEFCE's
to fund the 5 rated universities?
(Margaret Hodge) The decision is one for HEFCE. Of
course there are discussions with us but it is one made by HEFCE.
It is one I feel perfectly comfortable with because it is vital
that we do sustain those research departments that excel internationally
and the 5/5* ones have an international position so, in terms
of priorities for funding, the sustaining of that international
position must be our first priority.
159. I have two problems and I wonder if you
have a position on them at all. Some of the new universities have
development funding next year. How are they going to prioritise
their problem in relation to the 5 and 5* funding? The other issue
is new medical schools which are highlighted in government activity
to get new doctors and so on into the NHS, and some of them have
not got an RAE rating yet so they start from a very low base.
Do you not think they might have an injection of funds to help
them kickstart their research, or are we not going to have medics
who have any research orientation whatsoever, because it is generally
agreed you need to have that in good medical schools?
(Margaret Hodge) Let me step back a bit from your
first question. Having now had the portfolio for six months or
so and thinking about how we fund research in the UK, we are trying
to do a lot of things out of probably one pot of money which does
not quite work. We are trying to fund basic research capacity
where we can: we are trying to fund and promote and foster international
excellence, which we must do: and we are trying increasingly to
fund a knowledge-transfer capacity in regional economies. At the
moment we probably try to do too much out of the one stream of
money and too much out of that one assessment. One of the reasons
I welcome the review that HEFCE is now undertaking is that it
will give them an opportunity to step back and think a little
bit about the sensitivity of the current regime to funding those
three purposes, and whether it is fit for purpose. One of the
things we are reflecting on as we prepare our CSR bid is again,
if we are going to concentrate resources on the internationally
excellent research departments, how we then keep a flow of growing
departments and have most universities in all regions making a
contribution to their regional economy. It may be that we need
to look at a new settlement, a new way of funding, building perhaps
funding for some of the new universities, for example, who may
not have done so well out of the RAE exercise. And we need to
look at whether or not, given the bunching up at the 5/5*, the
RAE is sensitive enough to those that we want to promote internationally.
Also, of course, it all depends on the total quantum; the more
money you have, the more generous you can be across the board.
On your second question about new universities emerging, one of
the interesting things and one of the successes of the RAE and
all the research funding mechanism is that there has been quite
a lot of fluidity in the system and Oxford Brookes, as an example
of a new university, has done pretty well out of the RAE exercise
this year and does very well out of the HEIF funding as well,
so there is some fluidity in there. We have to keep maintaining
that but remember that the purpose of the RAE is to measure relative
excellence and distribute according to that.
1 Note by witness: Higher Education Reach-Out
to Business and the Community Fund / Higher Education Innovation