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Little change for research as grant letter finally released

The Higher Education Funding Council for England will have £1.587 billion to spend on quality research in 2012-13, its annual grant letter reveals.

It will also be required to make considerable efficiency savings from its QR funding pot: £45 million in 2012-13, £73m in 2013-14 and £104m in 2014-15. This money is all to be reinvested in research.

The research settlement for the year ahead sees the government making good on the budgets promised in last year’s HEFCE grant letter. It does, however, include a slightly reduced QR budget of £1.573bn for 2013-14. This is to be achieved on the basis of recommendations in the 2010 Wakeham review, such as encouraging universities to share facilities.

Capital research spending—the only part of HEFCE’s science spend that is not protected by ringfencing—is likely to be hit in the years ahead, dropping from £204m in 2011-12 to £175m in 2012-13 and just £101m in 2013-14. These are indicative figures.

The letter, sent to the council by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on 25 January, details budgets for teaching and research for the year ahead.

However, the figures in the letter describe spending in financial year 2012-13, rather than academic year 2012-13. The council is working out how the budget translates into academic year terms and says it will release a detailed statement in response to the grant letter next week.

The letter does not confirm rumours that the government plans to allow universities to enrol as many students with ABB A-level grades as they like as well as lifting the cap on AAB student enrolments. This had been the subject of media speculation and was cited as a reason for delay to the grant letter. However, BIS reiterates that its plan for the AAB threshold is a “starting point” and that the department will write separately to HEFCE to set out its plans for 2013-14 on this front.

As also predicted in last year’s grant letter, the government plans to cut HEFCE’s block grant for teaching from £4.645bn in 2011-12 to £3.815bn in 2012-13 and £2.883bn in 2013-14.

The letter contains little change for research but gives BIS the opportunity to remind HEFCE that it should fund only “internationally excellent” work and should maintain funding for the Higher Education Innovation Fund at £150m, with £113m coming from the department.

Nor does it offer clarification on the government’s plans for postgraduate education in its reformed higher education system.

The letter merely states that HEFCE should continue to gather evidence on how the reform of undergraduate education affects postgraduate participation and that HEFCE should “in any case take steps as far as possible to support postgraduate provision”.

Over-recruitment of students is described in the letter as contributing to “significant and increasing pressures” on the BIS budget. BIS is therefore setting new measures to prevent universities from over-recruiting undergraduates in the future.