Memorandum submitted by the Scottish Higher
Education Funding Council
1. Annex 1, attached to this memorandum
explains, in broad terms, the methods currently used by SHEFC
to fund research and knowledge transfer activities in Scotland's
universities and colleges of higher education. The majority of
the Council's research funding (about 75 per cent) is currently
distributed using a method that draws primarily on the outputs
of the Research Assessment Exercise conducted in 1996. About £116
million was allocated in 2001-02 through the Council's RAE-Based
2. The method of distributing funds using
the RAE-based method is broadly similar to the methods used by
the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the
Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) in their QR
funding streams. In other words, the available resources are distributed
first between units of allocation (or subject areas) using a number
of factors; and secondly, between eligible departments within
the units of allocation using indicators of quality and volume
drawn mainly from the RAE.
3. The main difference between the method
of funding used in Scotland and that used in England is that SHEFC
uses a Quality factorderived from the RAEin the
first stage of allocating funds to subject areas. The use of this
factor allows the Council to take into account differences in
quality among subjects in Scotland. This is particularly important
in a small country such as Scotland, where it is more difficult
to sustain critical mass at international levels of excellence
in all or most of the 68 units of allocation (or subject areas)
used in the RAE. The Quality factor therefore allows additional
resources to flow to the strongest subject areas in Scotland.
There are also some other minor differences in the methods of
allocation used by the different UK Funding Councils.
4. Although the data from the 1996 RAE has
been used primarily to inform funding through the RAE-Based Grant,
volume data from the Exercise has also influenced the allocation
of funding from the Council's formula-driven Knowledge Transfer
Grant (£6 million per annum). The purpose of this funding
stream is to promote the acceleration of research and knowledge
from the research base to the wider society, particularly where
this will achieve enhanced economic, social, educational, healthcare
or other benefits. Both quality and volume data from the 1996
RAE have also been used to influence the Council's allocation
of funding through the UK-wide Science Research Investment Fund
for 2002-03 and 2003-04 (£65 million) and a one-year SHEFC
Research Investment Fund introduced for 2001-02 (£10 million).
5. The Council has recently completed a
fundamental review of its policies and methods of funding research.
The purpose of the review was to look ahead, and to consider objectives
for the future funding of research over the next five to 10 years.
There were two stages to the review:
The first stage involved an initial
consultation (Research and the Knowledge Age) which discussed
the policy objectives for the Council's future funding of research,
identified the major challenges, and sought to identifyin
outlinea number of possible funding options.
A second stage consultation was published
in December 2000. That consultation described the methods that
the Council proposes to introduce from 2002-03 to fund research
in Scottish higher education institutions (HEIs) and invited views
on their introduction and operation.
6. The consultation process was deliberately
wide-ranging and included discussions with business and industry,
higher education institutions, charities, subject associations
and Government departments.
7. Many of the respondents to the consultations
shared the view that the structural arrangements for funding research
in the UKthrough the dual support systemhave contributed
significantly to the quality and diversity of the research base.
The respondents also argued that the Council should continue to
allocate the majority of its funds for research on the basis of
assessments of quality carried out at a UK-wide level. As the
Committee will probably be aware, evidence from studies commissioned
by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, as part of
their own review of research funding, have confirmed the beneficial
effects of successive assessments of research quality on the quality
of the research base in the UK.
8. The Council has also noted the view of
the Scottish Parliament's Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee
that "There are advantages in allowing Scottish universities
to continue to be able to compete on the UK playing field through
The Council proposes therefore to continue to allocate the majority
of funds for the research infrastructure selectively, and formulaically,
through a Main Quality Research Grant (formerly called the RAE-based
grant) from 2002-03, using the results of the 2001 RAE. The broad
method of distribution will be similar to that for the existing
RAE-based Grant. The Council also proposes to establish:
a Research Development Foundation
Grant to support new, emerging and developing areas of research.
This will be focused on those departments that have not yet achieved
recognition through the RAE but which have evidence of purchaser
demand for their research. The distribution of funding through
this grant will articulate with the Main Quality Research Grant
through the method of allocation and will, therefore, be influenced
by the outputs from the 2001 RAE;
a new Strategic Research Development
Grant will also be established. This will be a non-formulaic grant
scheme that should enable the Council to address strategic priorities,
particularly those that might emerge from the recently published
Science Strategy for Scotland. (This grant scheme will replace
the Council's existing Research Development Grant).
9. In addition, SHEFC will also maintain
a UK Activity Funding stream. The purpose of this funding is to
provide HEIs in Scotland with access to UK funding activitiessuch
as to the Arts and Humanities Research Boardwhere it is
recognised that participation in such activities is important
to maintaining the national and international competitiveness
of the Scottish research base.
10. In the SHEFC review of research policy
and funding, the Council highlighted the possible resource consequences
of continuing increases in the volume of high quality research
through the Research Assessment Exercise. And set out prioritiesopenly,
transparently and realisticallyfor addressing these in
ways that are intended to ensure that Scotland can continue to
support an internationally competitive research base in a sustainable
way over the next five to 10 years. In particular, the Council
indicated that its priority would be to seek to maintain average
levels of funding for the highest rated research.
11. As the Committee will be aware, the
results of the 2001 RAE have shown a significant increase in the
proportion (and volume) of staff in the highest rating bands.
In Scotland, 85 per cent of all academic staff submitted for assessment
in Scotland are now in departments rated 4 and above (compared
to 57 per cent in the 1996 RAE), and nearly 50 per cent of all
staff are located in 5 and 5* departments (21 per cent in 1996).
Among the particularly strong science and technology subjects
in Scotland with significant number of researchers that are internationally
Biological Sciences (383 staff)
Hospital-based Clinical Subjects
Clinical laboratory Sciences (142
Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Applied Mathematics (101 staff)
Veterinary Science (160 staff)
12. However, the significant improvement
in quality ratings now presents the Council with difficult choices
about funding. Within existing levels of resource, it will not
be possible to maintain funding for the highest rated departments
and continue to fund formulaically through the Main Quality Research
Grant all departments in the 3a and 3b rating bands. The Council
has been asked to provide the Scottish Executive Minister for
Enterprise and Lifelong Learning with advice on research funding
and met on 11 January 2002 to consider a number of funding options.
The Council's confidential advice will be submitted to the Minister
shortly. Decisions on research funding for 2002-03 will be announced
by SHEFC in its Main Grant Letter to higher education institutions
on 20 March 2002.
13. Although the Council's review of research
policy and funding revealed widespread support for a funding method
that continues to allocate the majority of funding for research
on the basis of UK-wide assessments of quality, there were nevertheless
concerns expressed about the current Research Assessment Exercise.
These included concerns that the RAE does not recognise sufficiently
the different characteristics of excellence in all types of researchparticularly
applied research. This view was also put forward by the Scottish
Parliament's Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee in its
report on the Inquiry into the SHEFC reviews of teaching and research
funding. In particular, the Committee argued that "...practical
outputs from research, such as patents and spin-outs are not as
highly valued as, for example, papers in academic journals".
14. The Council believes that more evidence
is needed about the effects of the Research Assessment Exercise
and that some of the concerns expressed may not have fully taken
account of the changes made to the 2001 RAE.
15. There is now a body of evidence that
points to the significant improvement in the quality of research
in the UK over the last 15 years, and to the contribution of the
RAE to this improvement. Analysis of institutional strategic plans,
and evidence commissioned by HEFCE as part of its review of research
policy and funding, show that there has been an increase in the
strategic management of the research environment in higher education
institutions since the introduction of the RAE.
16. However, the Council's view is that
there is now a need for a more fundamental review of the current
Research Assessment Exercise and its relationship to the funding
of research in the UK. The high proportion of research that is
now rated in the highest rating bands5 and 5*could
threaten to undermine the original objectives of the Exercise
by creating a funding system that will be progressively less selective
if the RAEand the link to fundingsimply remains
in the present form.
17. The Council has agreed therefore that
it should take part in a fundamental review of the future mechanisms
for assessing research in the UK with its sister funding bodies
in the UK in order to ensure that any assessment of research quality
meets our long-term needs.
5 Not printed. Back
This view was expressed by the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Committee in a report to its Inquirty into the Council's reviews
of teaching and research funding. The report was published on
23 October 2001. Back