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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
New voice in universities debate
researcher using microscope
The government plans to change the way it calculates funding
Several universities have joined together to lobby on research funding and other key higher education issues.

A main focus for the "alliance of non-aligned universities" will be the future of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

The government has proposed scrapping the RAE in 2008, replacing it with a formula-based system for allocating university-wide research grants.

The new alliance wants to keep the RAE, basing future funding more on formulae.

The alliance was convened by the vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, Professor John Craven.

It is composed of universities who are neither members of Russell group, the 94 group or the Campaigning for Mainstream Universities (CMU) group and expects to have about 30 members.

The Russell and 94 groups represent the interests of research-led universities. The CMU represents many of the newer universities.

This is a great opportunity for strong institutions to work together and have a united voice on a range of subjects concerning higher education
Professor John Craven

Many of those involved in the new alliance were members of the CMU, which has supported scrapping the RAE - a periodic assessment exercise which evaluates the quality of research at higher education institutions.

The CMU was not immediately available for comment.

Prof Craven insisted there was no hostile intent in establishing a new alliance alongside an organisation which was intended to represent universities created in 1992.

"We have created an alliance because we think there are issues such as the RAE where a number of universities have reasonably common interests."

Peer review

He added: "This is a great opportunity for strong institutions to work together and have a united voice on a range of subjects concerning higher education."

The RAE is done by peer review of published work, and money is targeted at the highest-performing departments.

Universities choose which of their staff to enter for assessment and their research is then graded from a level 5* downwards.

The Department for Education and Skills says a new research funding system would be "metrics-based" and it would maintain its "dual support funding", which funds specific research projects.


The government is launching a consultation on the proposed changes and says that because publishing for the 2008 RAE is already under way it is assumed it will go ahead.

However, the Treasury has said that if an alternative system were agreed and a majority of universities favoured an earlier move, then the government would be willing to consider scrapping the 2008 RAE.

The new alliance believes that if future funding for research is based more on formulae and less on peer review the 2008 RAE should go ahead.

It wants to ensure that future funding methods do not stifle developing areas of research in their universities.

Prof Craven said: "Within the universities who work together in the alliance there are many examples of successful research investment across science, technology, social sciences, arts and humanities.

"This has been demonstrated in previous assessment exercises and the alliance is concerned to ensure that future funding methods do not stifle these developing areas of research."

Knowledge transfer

The alliance wants to be consulted on all decisions made about the future of the RAE and to contribute to other areas of debate within the higher education system.

Other issues on which it wants to be consulted are likely to include the regional role of universities and the growth of knowledge transfer initiatives in higher education.

The creation of the new alliance was welcomed by Universities UK, the umbrella group for vice-chancellors.

A spokesperson said: "The diversity of our sector is one of its great strengths. We will be working closely with this new grouping within Universities UK's membership."

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