Interim Conclusion on England

Neither the Lisbon/Europe 2020 target of 3 % GDP nor the economic crisis appear to have had a significant influence on overall research spending in the UK which has neither significantly increased nor decreased over the last ten years.[1] The private sector is providing most of the funding for research in the UK and its share in comparison to other funders has increased over the last few years to nearly half of all research funding. Government is the second largest funder, followed by overseas sources, while the third sector plays a smaller role. The private sector also conducts most of the research for which it receives significant foreign funding. Public research is mainly taking place in HEIs with only a limited amount of research being conducted by other public research organisations. The third sector equally only performs a small percentage of the overall research in the UK. The lack of knowledge transfer and innovation has been identified as a cause for concern and the system is constantly being reformed to address such perceived shortcomings and implement government policy objectives.

The English system of funding HEI research is very competitive. Even the generic funding provided through HEFCE is based on competitive assessment.[2] HEFCE also rewards HEIs who attract external funding. Furthermore, generic funding constitutes less than a third of all research funding for HEIs in the UK. The research councils equally provide less than 30 % and involve governmental steering.[3] Other public research funding is received from government institutions, often taking the form of research contracts. Therefore, unless they have own resources,[4] HEIs need to seek the rest of their research funding from private, third sector and foreign sources. It might be assumed that such funds focus on the particular interests of these funders. The academic freedom of the researcher to research into any area of his or her choice thus seems to be somewhat limited and a fierce competition for limited resources takes place.[5] Due to this competitive approach TRAC fEC has been introduced early and created clarity as regards costing, but there nevertheless still seems to be some ambiguity when it comes to pricing.

  • [1] However, as we have seen above (Sect. 4.1) funding for HEIs in England has significantlydecreased with the onset of the Financial Crisis.
  • [2] For an analysis of the ‘relationship between the state, the funding councils and theuniversities’ in the current system see Filippakou et al. 2010.
  • [3] According to PACEC 2012, 80 % of HEIs stated they are ‘taking steps to align with keynational priorities of research councils’. In government policy there appears to be a strongpreference for the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects(UCU 2014, p. 9).
  • [4] HEIs own contributions amount to about 4 % (Office for National Statistics 2016, Table 1)and are assumably mainly making up for funders not providing full costs.
  • [5] For an early critical voice on this see Willmoth 1995, more recently see UCU 2014, pp. 2, 7,11.
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