Wake-up call to Government – new approach to university funding needed

Published: 21 June 2006 at 14:21

A study commissioned by 35 UK universities suggests that universities like Anglia Ruskin University are significantly better than others at using government funding to lever additional research income from other sources, and that the most successful universities are those that, at present, receive the least government support.

From a comparatively modestly funded research base, the 35 universities (including Anglia Ruskin) attract three times more additional research income from a diverse range of customers and achieve a multiplier effect greater than the ‘research intensive’ universities (in both the Russell and the 94 Groups) which the independent study describes as ‘striking’.

The study, undertaken by the Arthur D. Little international firm of consultants, comes as the future of research funding in the UK's higher education sector is being reviewed by Whitehall.

The study also confirms that the group of 35 is making a significant contribution to the UK economy, particularly in the context of regional regeneration and economic development.

Welcoming publication of the report, Anglia Ruskin’s Director of Research and Development Services, Dr Tony West said:

"This report demonstrates that investment in these universities offers great value for money and that the research undertaken plays a vital role in the UK economy. Its findings suggest that a fairer distribution of university research funding would help boost economic performance and social regeneration in the UK. Ministers would do well to consider the extra value they could achieve by ensuring more research funding went to these universities."

Other key findings include:

  • The group of 35 are highly effective in attracting significant research contracts from multinational and national industries and from small and medium-sized enterprises
  • They are outstandingly successful at attracting additional research contracts from other government agencies and public bodies, thus enabling them to play a key role in public policy development
  • They lever four times as much funding from the European Union as the ‘research intensive’ universities.

The study shows that the group of 35 undertakes research across a wide sectoral range including important emerging fields such as creative and cultural industries and tourism and leisure. Given trends in the wider economy, the Arthur D Little researchers suggest that these emerging industries will require a much stronger research base in the future and work undertaken by the group of 35 provides a valuable basis upon which to develop the necessary research capability. 

The Arthur D. Little researchers conclude that:

“The [group of 35] universities contribute a breadth and diversity of research which is clearly of huge value to a wide range of customers and users both in large and small businesses and in the public sector (at local, regional, national and international level) and is in many respects, complementary, not merely additional, to the work of the research intensive universities.”

Estelle Morris, former Education Secretary and now Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said:

“This report reveals what those of us at the sharp end know to be the case - that the work undertaken in these universities plays a vital role in the UK economy. Whilst we understand why the Government has, until now, focussed research funding in the more traditional universities, it is clear that a new approach is called for. These universities are an unexploited resource and we would be missing a trick if we did not encourage and assist them in developing further their research profiles.”