New Year, New Rules

Firstly, a belated Happy New Year to all – I trust you had an enjoyable and relaxing break. In my experience, the autumn semester is always very exhausting – just about everything seems to be crammed between October-December, but at least one can take a break over Christmas and the New Year in the expectation that you won’t return to several hundred e-mails.

The breaking news this week is that the annual grant letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to HEFCE has been published (see grant_letter_2013). This letter confirms the level of funding that will be distributed across the sector, and contains some interesting snippets of government thinking. For those who do not wish to pore over some 14 pages of dense prose, here are some highlights:

  • Confirmation that the A-level grade threshold above which universities will be able to recruit unlimited numbers of students will be ABB.
  • The pattern of recruitment in 2012-2013 (where a smaller number of students than expected went to university) has enabled the government to apply student number controls less rigidly in 2013-2014.
  • 5,000 places will be distributed to ‘cheaper providers’ (those that charge less than £9000) as was widely anticipated, but HEFCE has ben advised that these can now be provided without cutting existing places.
  • HEFCE is advised that these places should be allocated flexibly taking into account evidence of student institutional demand.
  • Acknowledging that most universities adopt a cautious approach to recruitment to avoid significant over-recruitment penalties, institutions will be allowed to recruit up to 3% above their total recruitment of HEFCE fundable students.
  • Looking forward to 2014/15, the Government wants HEFCE to consider increasing the flexibility for those institutions that have shown strong recruitment patterns in 2013/14 and taper this away from institutions enjoying less demand.

So it’s very clear that in the future ‘the system’ will be geared in favour of those institutions that are popular with students, at the expense of those that are not. This is of course good news for NU which, as highlighted in the Sunday Times last weekend, has seen one of the highest increases in undergraduate applications across the country this year. However clearly we must not be complacent – this good news will be worth nothing if we cannot convince our applicants to study here.

On research, the letter indicates that Research Funding will increase from £1.900 billion in 2012-2013 to £1.973 billion in 2014-2015. This is made up of the so-called recurrent grant which is ring-fenced, the HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) which will be maintained at a mimimum of £150 million, and capital expenditure which is not ring-fenced, and reduces from £111 million in 2012-13 to £55m in 2014-2015. The recurrent grant funds the so-called ‘QR’ income, which is distributed to institutions on the basis of performance in the last RAE, whereas HEIF funding is intended to support innovative research leading to spin-outs and the like, and again is distributed in a formulaic manner. While in real terms, taking inflation into account, there is likely to be a fall in these funding sources rather than an increase, given the current state of the public purse the news could have been much worse.

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About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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