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Calls for overhaul of research funding

A fundamental review of research funding is needed to bring the UK in line with international competitors, a new report has warned.

The University and College Union said an overhaul of research and development and the method of distributing funds should be a priority for the next government.

The report, Seeing the bigger picture: The future of UK research and development, criticises the current funding model for concentrating money in a handful of universities and covering a limited number of research areas. In 2012-13, a quarter of the £1.9bn of research funding provided by taxpayers was allocated to five universities with 12 institutions receiving half of the total.

The UK needs a publicly-funded research system similar to countries such as Germany and the US, which invest considerably more in research than the UK, the report argues.

“The UK has seen continuing underinvestment in research in recent years,” a UCU spokesman said. “UK universities have experienced a £467m real terms cut in public research funding since 2009, which is expected to grow to around £600m next year.”

The union backs calls from the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee for the government to commit 3 per cent of gross domestic product towards research and development spending by 2020.

A separate review report, Research Excellence in the 21st Century: Funding a healthy research ecosystem, by the University Alliance also argues against the concentration of research funding. It says that small and median sized research units tend to be at least as productive as large ones.

Professor Andrew Wathey, lead Vice-Chancellor for research policy at the University Alliance and Vice-Chancellor at Northumbria University, said:  “It is essential to get the balance of future funding right and to ensure we have the right foundations, systems, expertise and capacity.” 

Get the full picture from HEi-know:  Briefing Report 223