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April 02, 2009

Edinburgh and Aberdeen win in Scottish funding settlement

The Scottish Funding Council has announced university funding allocations that reward Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities for their strong performance in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.

But Strathclyde and Stirling universities, which did badly in the RAE, receive reductions in their overall funding — and sharp cuts in the research support component of it — under the settlement, which is released today in a letter to the universities from SFC chief executive Mark Batho.

"This is the start of a brave new world for Scottish higher education," said Batho, noting that the settlement is the first to reflect a new funding structure agreed last year with the Scottish government, whereby universities receive their support from a general fund and a new, ‘horizon fund', which is supposed to reflect the government's strategic priorities.

SFC allocations to support research activity are adjusted sharply in the settlement, mainly as a result of the RAE results. Aberdeen's total research support soars by 22 per cent, to £22 million, for example, and that of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland's largest research university, increases by 10.7 per cent, to £75.7m.

Stephen Logan, senior vice principal of the University of Aberdeen, said that the outcome was "fantastic" for the university and reflected a long-term strategy to strengthen research there. Five years ago, the university was reorganized from 38 departments in six faculties to twelve schools grouped in three colleges, and it is now embarking on a ten-year, £200m construction programme. "This gives us great confidence that our strategy is working", Logan said.

In a statement, Timothy O'Shea, principle of the University of Edinburgh, said: "Since 2002 our objective has been to improve the quality of our research at a faster rate than the upper quartile of the Russell Group of universities - and we have achieved that."

David Gani, head of policy at the SFC, said that the increases for stronger universities such as Edinburgh reflected their RAE performance, rather than any strategy of concentrating resources. "Edinburgh has done well because it increased the volume and quality" of its RAE submission, he said.

The University of Glasgow, Scotland's second largest, will receive £47.3m in research support, up by 1.1 per cent, or less than the expected rate of inflation.

Overall, the SFC's university budget grows by 3.4 per cent this year. Of that, a small fraction is yet to be allocated to institutions, meaning that the total allocation revealed today is up by 2.9 per cent  — close to the likely rate of inflation — from last year.

But research support for Strathclyde falls under the settlement by 5.3 per cent, to £20.4m. And at the University of Stirling, it plunges by 16.8 per cent, to £8.1m. These reductions would have been even sharper but for the SFC's decision to provide an extra £1.3m to Strathclyde, and £1.5m to Stirling, for this year only, to soften the transition. "Our transition problem is not a large one," says Batho. "We had two institutions that needed some level of additional level of support."

Andy Mitchell, a spokesman for Stirling, said that after the RAE outcome, the drop in the research allocation was "disappointing but not unexpected". "The 2008 RAE is already out of date," he said, noting that it was based on work published up to 2006. "We have moved on since then and we have a strategy in place, with our sights set on the next assessment."

Total funding for each university, including support for teaching, is subject to slower change — but still shows pronounced differences between winners and losers in the RAE. Edinburgh's total grant support from the SFC is up 5.3 per cent to £186.5m, and Aberdeen's is up 7.2 per cent to £90.4m.

But Stirling's total allocation falls by 1.6 per cent and Strathclyde's by 0.3 per cent. With inflation further eroding the value of these grants, both institutions face cuts this year. Mitchell said that Stirling was still working on its detailed response, but had no plans to close departments.

As was the case in England, some ‘new' universities benefit handsomely from the SFC settlement, after their better-than-expected performance in the RAE. Research support for Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen grows by 79 per cent to £2.7m, the University of the West of Scotland is up 30 per cent to £1.36m, and Abertay University in Dundee up by 27 per cent to £947,000. However when teaching and other grants are added in, these institutions each receive only small increases in their overall allocations.

Link: Scottish Funding Council Circulars

Link: SFC grants for 2009-10 and percentage changes since 2008-09 (PDF)


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Strathclyde is one of the leading universities in the world. It should make improvemnt for its next RAE rankings.

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