Britain’s universities may be undercharging commercial organisations for research projects, claims the all-party Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
This was just one of the findings of a new Post report, Striking A Balance – The Future Of Research `Dual Support’ In Higher Education.
Post cannot make firm recommendations, but it says fundamental action is needed to improve grant delivery and to cope with the `funding gap’ between what universities receive to conduct research and its actual cost.
On grant delivery, the report is sceptical about proposals to consolidate the dual support funding sources – the Research Councils (run by the Department of Trade and Industry’s Office of Science and Technology) and the Higher Education Funding Councils (run by the Department of Education and Employment, and the Northern Irish, Welsh and Scotttish Offices) – under the OST’s aegis. This, it says, `could be seen as merely moving deckchairs on the national research ship and not contributing to a solution’.
On the funding gap – estimated by higher education institutes at £440m rather than its original figure of £670m – Post sees a need for action from universities and those commissioning work.
It says universities need to improve accounting procedures to more clearly identify project costs.
Post says Government departments force rates down because they see universities as `a national resource’, even though they often ask them to perform work that would previously have been done in-house.
Similarly, standard work rates set by organisations such as the European Union and charities fail to recognise true research costs.
Overall, the report says there may be a fundamental problem in the allocation of research funds according to the volume rather than the quality of the work put forward. This may be distorting results from the Research Assessment Exercise used by HEFCs to determine awards.