The sector is getting more QR funding and it will be spread across the whole of England.
It’s nice to write about science policy without wondering where all the policies have gone, whether the UK is going to leave its single biggest research partnership, or who the science minister is today.
Wonkhe readers may well recall that back in July Research England announced its funding budgets for the next three years (between 2022 and 2025). We learned then that the overall level of QR funding would grow from around £1.7bn this academic year to £1.97bn in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
This includes a significant increase in mainstream QR funding and a 36 per cent increase in the business research element of funding. As a hypothecated but non-ringfenced funding stream QR allows universities maximum freedom to pursue the things they believe are important – so this settlement will bring some certainty, and thankfully more latitude to plan, in an uncertain wider funding environment. Research England has now set out how this increased funding will be allocated to providers.
Research quality has improved across the country. REF 2021 saw a 46 per cent increase in staff submitted to the exercise; 41 per cent of research was assessed as world-leading; and 43 per cent as internationally excellent. The funding formula has remained consistent with the last REF exercise – so these allocations reflect the overall improvement in research. Mainstream QR funding mechanisms remain unchanged. including the relationship between 4* and 3* research.
The announcement by Research England again points out how proportional funding has been maintained at 2021-22 levels including a recognition of “the contribution that all our disciplines make to national life”. Shorthand for funding has not been cut for arts and humanities programmes as some had speculated.
The UK Government’s net spend on research activity is just over £15bn so at close to £2bn QR funding is not an insignificant part of the funding picture.
The University of Oxford is the single largest recipient of funding at close to £170m – which is a £20m year on year increase in funding. Next in the ranking are Imperial which has seen an £18m increase in funding, the University of Manchester which has received a £17.4m increase, Cambridge has engorged their coffers by a cool £15.7m, and UCL will enjoy a £14.6m boost over last year.
It is worth repeating, and this distribution makes clear, QR is not a policy instrument for the regional redistribution of research funding (or levelling up if you wish to call it that). QR funding is not geographically weighted and simply follows research strengths wherever they may exist.
Our friends in the north
Saying this, as funding follows REF there are some institutions who have significantly grown their research income. As the authors of this piece are from the North East we thought we would pick this region to focus on regional research strength. The University of Northumbria has grown its QR allocation by an enormous 149 per cent, Teesside University by 75.7 per cent, and the University of Sunderland by close to 19 per cent.
There is an argument to be made that levelling up in research should be about funding latent potential and clearly the North East is growing its research power without the public investment other parts of the country have enjoyed. There are only 13 providers who will receive less funding than in previous years – LSE will receive the largest drop in funding, being close to £1m worse off.
In all, things have shaken out exactly how Research England told us they would. Funding follows REF, REF rewards research excellence, and excellence is found in all parts of the UK. There is more funding so those who have done proportionally better in REF have received a greater proportion of funding.
As we note above, QR doesn’t rebalance the geographical inequalities in research funding. The opportunity with this increase in funding, particularly where there are clusters of growth like in the North East, is to grow regional economies with universities at the centre of that mission.
Given the news on inflation this week, and the current Conservative Party leadership contest, there are unlikely to be many parts of the public sector who will receive funding settlements of this scale in 2022-23.