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England’s top research universities shielded from grant cuts

TrinityCollegeCamGreatCourt.jpgResearch intensive universities in England, including the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, will be relatively cushioned from cuts to the nation’s 2011-12 higher education budget, figures released today show.

Universities were told today their share of £6.5 billion for the next academic year – a 6.5% cash reduction in funding available in 2010-11. Of this, more than £1.5 billion is for research activities, a cut of nearly 3% on the previous year’s budget. Funding for teaching will fall by over 8% next year to £4.3 billion. (See Nature’s coverage of cuts to the UK’s science budget)

Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) told a press conference yesterday that funding top quality research is the top priority.

“We want to ensure that internationally excellent and world-leading research is properly supported,” said Langlands. “The council’s aim is to fund excellent research wherever it is found rather than with an eye on certain institutions”, he added.

Langlands says the average decrease in funding for next year across all institutions is 3.7%. But large variations exist between universities. The University of Cambridge will experience a below average cut of 0.6%. Likewise, Imperial College London and University College London will see cuts of only 0.1% and 1.0% respectively. And the University of Oxford’s grant will increase by 1.4%.

England’s smaller teaching focused institutions will be hit hardest. For example, Anglia Ruskin University which has campuses in Cambridge and Chelmsford will see its grant cut by over 10%.

Universities are expected to plug the funding gap for teaching with income from student fees. Universities will be allowed to charge up to £9,000 per year from 2012. Several universities, including Oxford, have already announced they plan to charge students the maximum fees. Institutional charges should be finalised by mid-July, Langlands says.

Responding to the announcement, Paul Marshall, executive director of the 1994 group of smaller research intensive universities, said in a statement, “HEFCE has made the best of a very difficult set of circumstances, and made sure that funds are allocated in the fairest way.”

But the University and College Union, a trade union, warned that the greater concentration of research funding in top universities will impact newer universities trying to develop their research profile.

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, which represents universities, said in a statement that a “great a deal of uncertainty about funding” remains for institutions over the coming years. He called on the government to provide “more clarity” on final plans for the new fees regime beginning in 2012 “as soon as possible”.

Picture: The Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge. Source: Andrew Dunn, Wikipedia


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