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Research and teaching budgets front and centre on the UK agenda

On 1 March 2011 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), in collaboration with its counterpart organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, released the new guidelines – including the weighting of three elements in the assessment – for the upcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and, starting in 2015/16, REF results will be used to allocate research funds among UK higher education institutions.

In a clash between the UK higher education funding bodies and other stakeholders (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, July 2010), the four funding bodies have compromised and decided to allocate 20% of funding based on research impact, though HEFCE asserts that this percentage will likely increase over time. The remaining 80% of assessment will be divided across two elements: research outputs (65%) and research environment (15%). The controversial “impact” issue in question refers to research with economic and social benefits outside universities. Moreover, universities will be required to provide case studies of their so-called impact, a process about which many in academe remain uncertain. Further details regarding the new procedures on how higher education institutions should apply for research funding will be disseminated in July 2011.

Later in the month, HEFCE released another key document: Recurrent grants for 2011-12. The 2011/12 higher education budget for distribution among England’s institutions totals GBP 6.5 billion (EUR 7.4 billion). This is a decrease of GBP 750 million (EUR 854 million) from the 2010/11 final budget, with the overwhelming majority of cuts made to teaching (GBP 122 million or EUR 139 million). With the confirmation of the drop in government funding, universities will undoubtedly look to student contributions to cover institutional expenditures. Indeed, in a timely report to higher education institution heads, the Office of Fair Access (OFFA) laid out guidelines for institutions that wish to charge above the basic fee of GBP 6 000 (EUR 6 833) for UK/EU undergraduate students. The rationale of the OFFA report is to encourage greater outreach and outcome efforts to students from non-traditional backgrounds. As of now, Bishop Grosseteste University College – an institution with a 17.7% funding decrease from 2010/11 — is the only university, thus far, to announce plans to charge below the GBP 9 000 (EUR 10 246) tuition maximum.

Finally, in related news, the National Audit Office has issued a new report examining HEFCE’s role in Regulating financial sustainability in higher education (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe, March 2011).

Higher Education Funding Council for England – Research Excellence Framework

Higher Education Funding Council for England – Recurrent grants for 2011/12

Office of Fair Access (England)