Following the announcement that Russell Group universities could possibly lose research funding to other establishments, based on the results of the 2008 RAE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has announced that it has ring-fenced the money that it uses to fund STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Universities will receive a total of £8 billion in funding in the next year from HEFCE, who have warned universities that the funding distribution will be very selective.
This will be good news for the Russell Group, who were worried that the amount of first class research in Britain would be limited if their universities were to lose much-needed cash.
It is, however, a worry for universities who do not offer STEM subjects. Universities that specialise in arts and humanities subjects are set to lose out in the deal, as the 2008 RAE found research to be excellent in most areas in this sector.
HEFCE have said that all research that received a rating of 2* or higher in the RAE will receive funding, but that priority will be given to science and medicine. The funding allocations will be announced in full on Thursday 5th March.
Meanwhile, Labour's Science Minister, Lord Drayson, has suggested that the government should concentrate on funding areas of research which are likely to boost the economy of the UK. He says that other nations are selecting narrow areas which they think will help boost their own economies, and that the UK should not be afraid to do the same. Lord Drayson believes that the most important area is the life sciences, but that skilled statisticians and physicists are needed urgently to back up this area.
The news of HEFCE's funding arrangements follows a flurry of stories regarding university cash problems. Last week it was announced that many institutions, including London Metropolitan University and Kingston University, are being forced to pay back money to the government after an audit discovered that they had mis-represented student drop-out figures. Kingston has been ordered to pay back £500,000, whilst the London Metropolitan University is set to lost £50 million. This large figure has sparked worries that entire courses may be forced to close at the university, with threats that around 300 members of staff could be axed. Another story that caused concern recently was the news that the government is being forced to limit the intake of new students in order to pay the appropriate grants and loans next year.