The Financial Repercussions of the RAE

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by Dr Catherine Armstrong

This article will discuss the financial implications of the RAE results. The government has recently decided which institutions will receive the most money and the implications for job seekers will be explored here.

Where has the money gone?

HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council of Great Britain) has been given £8 billion by the government to distribute to universities in the UK based on the results of last year's Research Assessment Exercise. The grant will be spent on:

  • £4,782 million for teaching, including £269 million for teaching enhancement and student success, and £143 million for widening participation
  • £1,572 million for research
  • £134 million for business and community engagement
  • £1,154 million capital funding, including £219 million brought forward from later years to help combat the recession.

Overall, the results reflect a rise in spending on research but the amount allocated to each institution differs widely from previous years. Some universities, such as Loughborough, Cranfield and Edge Hill, have seen a massive increase in spending, while others, such as Goldsmiths and Thames Valley, have seen significant falls, although the number of institutions facing a reduction in funding is much lower. The real controversy is over funding shares; some very prestigious institutions such as the London School of Economics have seen their share cut, while many of the new post-1992 former polytechnics have done very well in this funding round.

The LSE's problems have been partly put down to government decisions to protect science funding at the expense of humanities and social science funding. Others have commented that it represents a sort of anti-elitism where the excellent research institutions are penalised in favour of the up and coming universities.

What are the implications for research?

The implications for research are interesting. The government argues that while it believes that British universities are still world class there is a fear that funding shortfalls in the UK will lead the brightest researchers abroad (especially to America) where they can expect bigger salaries and more research money. The £1.5 billion that has been allocated for research will no doubt cause a number of arguments as universities who feel they have been treated unfairly protest their cause. Especially concerned are some research-focussed institutions such as Imperial College, London and even Cambridge University, who believe that the pot of funding money will be spread ever thinner, preventing the UK from competing on the world stage. New universities on the other hand are nervous that the government will disregard the results long term and return to favouring the elite research driven institutions, despite the research excellence that new institutions have displayed.

What are the implications for jobseekers?

Jobseekers can be worried. Some institutions had already begun placing job adverts that commented on the good showing in 2008's RAE. But it was only towards the end of last week that the way the money would actually be divided up became apparent. The Russell Group is especially concerned that a less-than-inflation increase in funding might result in some staff being laid off. Malcolm Grant, chair of the Russell Group commented that ‘If you don't receive a total grant that keeps pace with inflation, something has got to give. Across Russell group institutions, there will be reviews of staffing. Some institutions will want to reduce staff or not hire new staff. It's going to be quite tight.'

However, post-1992 institutions may well increase their hiring as a result of the increase in funding. Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, a lobby group for former polytechnics, welcomed the boost in funding for new universities saying ‘Post-92 universities have paid back with abundance the very modest levels of research funding received in the past'.

The RAE also showed that job opportunities in certain fields in academia had dramatically increased since the last RAE in 2001 due to student demand. Universities wanted more social science and humanities lecturers, but fewer science and languages teachers.

So, jobseekers must wait and see. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that job advertisements have increased recently in time for the new academic year that begins in September. Whether this trend is sustained long term is anyone's guess. Interesting times for those on the academic career path!


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