research funding

Last week I read a post from Martin Weller about the REF and it chimed with various thoughts I’ve been having over the last year or so about how research is funded in UK Universities. The current process seems to be incredibly bureaucratic and I agree with Martin that it doesn’t provide value, although I don’t think that his suggestion would work.

There are two parts to the Research Council UK funding to Universities:

  • An institutional grant calculated by the quality of research for each of the submitted researchers at that institution, which is assessed every five years or so in the research assessment exercise (RAE)/research excellence framework (REF).
  • Grants for specific projects that individual researchers apply for and the best are then funded.

Whilst there have been suggestions to automate the analysis for the REF (as Martin suggests) this has been really controversial as there is no agreed standard for success and different subject areas have different norms, which could lead to all sorts of playing the system at the edges of each subject. So given that this has been being discussed for some time now for the REF, and yet that will continue to require a small group of people to look at all the submissions, I don’t think that this is a viable option.

Nowhere else in the world (at least that I am aware of) requires this sort of process in order to allocate basic research funding to their Universities. Wouldn’t it be much simpler just to provide each institution with an amount per researcher and then use the money that is saved from not having to go through this process to increase the amount available for grants?

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