University funding: Spread it about plea

A report by Coventry academics has prompted calls for continued university research funding.

A Coventry University-led evaluation of university research grants in the UK will today call for Government commitment to avoid focusing funding into just a handful of universities, cutting off money for modern universities which produce world-leading research.

The report, entitled Research that Matters, is launched today in the House of Commons by leading think-tank million+.

Developed by academics at Coventry University, the report concludes that if the Government concentrates even more research funding to a small number of universities, it will hamstring the Government’s own objectives of promoting innovation, as well as economic growth at the regional or national level.

In addition, at the very time that the Government is seeking to open up undergraduate teaching to a ‘market’, there is a real risk that research funding may become a ‘closed shop’ with a further loss of the competition and dynamism that is a feature of other countries’ research funding regimes.

“Funding regimes continue to favour older and larger research departments and universities,” said million+ Chair and Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire Professor Les Ebdon. “However there is no clear relationship between the size of an academic research team and the excellence of the outputs they produce.”

“Removing funding from modern universities will kill off research that has been recognised as world-leading and internationally excellent.”

“It is also likely to involve the transfer of research funding to the South and East of England – where the universities with larger research departments are based – at the very time that regional economies elsewhere require greater stimulus.”

Proponents of greater concentration of research funding argue a ‘critical mass’ of researchers, funding and research activity result in research excellence. Yet evidence suggests that extreme concentration of research funding is not the best situation for the UK as:

  • Research excellence is widely distributed across universities and not confined to the institutions that receive the greatest quantities of funding.
  • Maintaining public investment in a diverse array of institutions is important because proximity facilitates the development of research partnerships between universities, businesses, industry and public and third sector organisations.
  • A diverse research base enhances the ability of universities to respond to new challenges and develop research in emerging disciplines and markets. This could prove crucial at a time of economic recovery.
  • Pound-for-pound, modern university research departments provide better value for money from the very modest amounts of public funding they receive. For every £1 spent on university research by the higher education funding councils in 2008-09, modern universities leveraged £2.91 from other sources compared to £2.17 leveraged by Russell Group universities and £1.77 leveraged by 1994 Group universities. For every £1 of research council funding, modern universities leveraged £0.32 from UK industry, commerce and public corporations compared to £0.19 by other institutions.
  • Modern universities lead the way in entrepreneurship and enterprise amongst research students. In 2007-08 modern universities supported 67% of all graduate start-ups, 24% of total staff spin-outs and 27% all other spin-outs.

Coventry University was shown to provide particularly good value for money when it comes to public spending on research in higher education.

For every £1 Coventry University received for research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in 2008-09, it leveraged £4.45 from other sources – well above the  modern universities average leverage of £2.91, and significantly more than the £2.17 leveraged by Russell Group universities and £1.77 leveraged by 1994 Group universities.

Lorna Everall, head of the Corporate Partnership Unit at Coventry University, said: “This report highlights a number of examples of world-leading research at the modern universities, and in so doing provides very strong evidence of the vital role these establishments are playing alongside the traditional universities in supporting the growth of the economy and tackling the issues of today.”

The full report Research that Matters can be found at