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Research funding shifts to major players in HEFCE allocations

Englands top universities will get a boost in the research portion of their block grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England in 2010-11, according to the funding councils preliminary funding allocations, published today.

The University of Oxford came out top, with a £7 million – 6 per cent – rise in research funding. The University of Cambridge gained 3.7 per cent, University College London 4.3 per cent, Imperial College London 3.3 per cent and the University of Manchester 2.4 per cent. These institutions, the top five in terms of research funding, between them took 33 per cent of the £1.6 billion pot, a marginally larger share than last year.

Most of the rest of the Russell Group of large research intensive universities also saw increases, though the Universities of Liverpool and Newcastle saw small declines. Losses to other universities were generally small, and were spread among many smaller institutions.

The change was mainly due to HEFCEs decision, in response to the governments desire for greater concentration of research funding, to increase the “slope” of the formula used to determine research allocation to more heavily favour the highest quality work as determined in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.

Few universities, however, saw large increases in their overall block grant funding. The overall pot of £7.3bn is 1.6 per cent down on last year, though both the teaching and research components rose. This is the first time HEFCEs grant has fallen since Labour came to power in 1997. The majority of the losses come from capital funding and other “special funding”. This means, for example, that despite Oxfords impressive gain in research funding, its overall block grant is up just 1 per cent, mainly due to losses in funding for old and historic buildings.

Overall, around half of universities in England will receive less money than last year, with the other half posting small gains in cash terms. But many of those gains are less than inflation, so are essentially a cut in real terms. A few universities will see larger percentage cuts, for example the University of Reading and the London School of Economics. This is due to the end of “moderation” funding, which was used to smooth out drastic changes in grant allocations last year. The £20m in moderation funding HEFCE has available this year is being used to smooth out changes in other areas.