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Call for government to ‘stabilise the research base’

Think tank paper calls for increase in quality-related funding to boost sector confidence

The government should immediately increase quality-related research funding to universities to mitigate damage caused by the Covid-19 crisis, according to two senior academics.

Research funding will have been interrupted and work lost amid the ongoing pandemic, according to Chris Husbands, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, and Natalie Day, head of policy and strategy at Sheffield Hallam.

In a paper released by Higher Education Policy Institute think tank they outline eight interventions needed to help institutions weather the storm.

Among these is increasing the government funding given to universities based on the quality of their research by 25 per cent in 2020-21, 10 per cent in 2021-22, and 5 per cent in 2022-23.

“This would give confidence to the sector by effectively devolving greater budgetary discretion to institutions to identify and support areas of greatest priority in their research base,” they say. “It would also provide further security to research intensive institutions who are more negatively affected by a deflated international student market.”

Their paper comes as many funders outline expected disruptions and delays in their grants, and many universities shut down their campuses. There have also been concerns over job security for researchers on fixed-term contracts, with at least one university advising reviewing and terminating all such contracts as part of its strategy to mitigate financial impact of Covid-19.

The other interventions recommend by Husbands and Day are:

  • Suspend the market in undergraduate applications
  • Address the impact of Covid-19 on retention and progression rates
  • Move immediately to announce rent suspension for students
  • Develop a fair and appropriate model for contextual admissions
  • Abandon the National Student Survey for 2020
  • Establish a Digital Learning Leadership Fund
  • Treat higher education as a public good