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Should We Be Funding a Greater Number of UK Research Universities

A report from Digital Science and Sussex University has revealed that the UK’s overreliance on the top performing universities could lead to stagnation in scientific research and development. The institutes are attempting to encourage investors to place their trust in a wider range of science-focussed institutions – recognising the value of diversity in research.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) comes in for particular criticism, suggesting the model for awarding finance based upon an institution’s performance the previous year is flawed. Digital Science uses the report to argue:

“Awarding more funds to institutions and teams that did well last year is a safe bet only so long as next year looks similar. The taxpayer should rightly be assured that significant investment supports current policy priorities, but without curiosity driven research identified by researchers themselves we will soon be mining worn-out seams.”

Diversifying the funding throughout a greater number of universities can allow quicker reaction to changing requirements, technologies and practices. As opportunities appear, a larger number of universities with sufficient investment will provide a greater variety of approaches – increasing the chances of success.

And Jonathan Adams, chief scientist at Digital Science, is concerned that the current approach is killing the science and research departments in some universities: “The REF formula pushes money to the top end – which has led to funding being over-concentrated on a small number of large centres of excellence – and to the bottom end to maintain a minimum level of research funding. This leaves the mid-range universities increasingly stretched. But if we starve the mid-range then we will have real problems in the future.”

However Adams does admit that it will be difficult for an independent body to determine worthy recipients of funding, using a criteria based upon diversity. Despite this, he believes that efforts should be made to accurately measure and quantify diversity, allocating funding in accordance.

Adams has called upon the help of the research community to assist with the process of diversifying funding throughout the UK.

“Bodies such as the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society need to feed into policy debates and lift them above metrics. There needs to be a lot more lobbying and [these bodies] should be more blunt in their politics, making clear statements about what is needed in their sector. Chemists are the only ones who can interpret properly what is happening in chemistry research, and then inform policymakers.”

Additionally, providing a greater number of university researchers the funding and facilities to complete research tasks will only serve to improve the state of the UK’s scientific community in the years to come.

So whether you’re the lucky recipient of funding and want to turn that into new research facilities or you believe a new lab suite will help you secure that much-needed cash injection, InterFocus can help. For more details about how we can help you develop laboratories, tailored to your specific requirements, visit our homepage or call our dedicated team on 01223 894833.

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