LORDS

Funding for science research in universities in jeopardy, warns Lords Committee

08 August 2019

The Augar Review did not take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and made no attempt to assess the potential impact of its recommended changes in the funding of higher education on the funding of research. The result is a distorted assessment of the sector's financial health as a whole, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee warn in their report.

Overview

The Augar Review recommended reducing the tuition fee cap in England to £7,500 but unless this loss is fully compensated by increasing the teaching grant to individual institutions, it will result in significant financial consequences for universities. Any loss in funding would require universities to divert other income streams to support teaching, reducing the resources available to support research. The panel made no attempt to assess the potential impact of its recommended reductions in student fees on the funding of research.

The inquiry also found that Quality-Related (QR) funding, a significant element of the funding provided to universities to support research, has fallen 12.8% in real terms since 2010, adding increased pressure to the ability of universities to conduct high-quality scientific research.

If the Government is to follow any of the recommendations of the Augar Review relating to tuition fees, it must implement them as a full financial package, including increasing the teaching grant to cover the loss of tuition fees, to ensure that universities are no worse off than they are now. The Government should also address the deficit in QR funding, and should commit to increasing QR funding at least in line with the rate of inflation.

Chairman

Lord Patel, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The Augar Review has completely missed the mark by not considering research funding in its review. By ignoring research and cross-subsidies, it has made recommendations which, if implemented, could prove harmful to the already challenging ecosystem of university funding.

“We heard evidence that a university’s core operational activities of teaching and research are both loss-making activities already and any shortfall in funding would become unmanageable. The immediate casualties will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses.

“Without adequate research funding, the consequences for the UK will be devastating and the UK risks falling behind other countries. The Government intends to spend 2.4% GDP on research and development by 2027, but we conclude that it will be extremely difficult to meet this target unless funding for research in universities is secured and the UK can attract researchers from overseas.”

Key findings from the report

The Committee also address further issues facing science research funding in universities including:

  • Brexit - Retaining the mobility of researchers after Brexit is vital to ensuring the UK can continue to attract the best researchers and meet its research and development goals. The Government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require, including technicians earning below the recommended salary threshold.
  • Loss of EU funding - The Government should ensure that once the UK has left the EU the level of funding the UK currently receives from the EU for research is matched in full. As the UK is a net beneficiary of EU research funding this amount will be greater than the amount the UK currently contributes to the EU research pot.

Further information

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