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February 02, 2011

Innovation funding to target already successful institutions


The Higher Education Funding Council for England plans to reduce the number of institutions that receive support from the Higher Education Innovation Fund.

Under plans announced on 1 February universities will have to qualify to receive £250,000 or more from HEIF to receive anything at all. A maximum cap on funding to any institute will also be fixed at £2.85m.

The council also plans to change the formula it uses to allocate funding. Allocations will be based solely on previous performance in deriving income from contract research, consultancy, external courses, intellectual property and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships. Hefce will no longer take into account the number of academic staff.

The number of staff was previously used as a measure of a university’s potential to grow its knowledge exchange acitivites. By removing it Hefce signals that it will no longer use HEIF to build capacity, only to reward what already exists. The formula will instead focus on income over the last four years with a double weighting applying to income from small to medium sized businesses.

The move follows a trend to increase the use of performance metrics in allocating HEIF funding. In allocating of the science budget in December, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills called for reform to HEIF that would “focus on performance rather than capacity, incentivising further the highest performing institutions and supporting the most effective performers.”

The £150m fund, which is designed to encourage universities in knowledge exchange and commercialisation projects, was protected within the government’s £3.6bn science ringfence.

In a letter to universities, Hefce said that, given five years of spending on capacity building, from 2011 to 2015 “the focus in tighter fiscal times must be on successful delivery”.

The move will mean some universities will now receive no HEIF income at all, compared to a previous £100,000 minimum. To ensure a level of stability, a moderation fund will be used to ensure that no institute changes its HEIF income by more than 50 per cent compared with previous allocations, says Hefce.

Hefce will announce in March the relative weightings of data used in calculations and provisional allocations. It will also launch a consultation on the £250,000 threshold figure, with allocations expected to begin in August.

The fund has been frozen at an annual £150m in cash terms for the whole of the spending review period with £113m to come from the science budget and remainder direct from Hefce.

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