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Universities excelling in research face fall in funding, leaders warn

Universities Scotland said funding allocations for next year meant ‘spectacular levels of research excellence are being rewarded with cuts’ (Chris Ison/PA)
Universities Scotland said funding allocations for next year meant ‘spectacular levels of research excellence are being rewarded with cuts’ (Chris Ison/PA)

University leaders have urged ministers to intervene as they claimed the latest funding allocations would result in cuts for institutions with “spectacular levels of research excellence”.

Universities Scotland hit out after the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) announced its financial allocations for the academic year 2022-23.

The overall revenue budget for universities in Scotland is being increased by 2% to stand at just over £1.1 billion, the SFC said.

Funding for teaching is also rising by 2% for the next academic year, to £744.9 million

Meanwhile, funding to cover research and innovation is rising 16% to £299.1 million.

A spokesperson for the SFC said that “in the context of a tight fiscal environment, SFC has prioritised both frontline teaching and investment in research”.

However, Universities Scotland complained some institutions would see their research excellence grant cash fall by 10% in the next academic year – with Aberdeen University, Glasgow School of Art and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh in line for reductions on this scale.

Overall, eight universities will see their grants cut, it said, with four institutions set to lose £1 million or more from their funding.

Speaking about the research excellence grant allocation, Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim said: “Spectacular levels of research excellence are being rewarded with cuts.

“This is a lost opportunity, which the Scottish Government need urgently to address.”

Mr Sim said: “Investment in research and development has been proven to deliver economic prosperity, high-quality jobs and support for businesses, all recently highlighted as priorities for the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation.

“Two weeks ago, universities were rightly being hailed by the Scottish Government for our contribution to Scotland being a world-leading research nation.

“Now we have a scenario where some universities which have improved their performance are seeing cuts to their research funding.”

He added: “Universities Scotland has alerted the Scottish Government to the university sector’s concerns that today’s allocations don’t do enough to sustain excellent research across Scotland’s universities.

“We look forward to urgent action by Scottish Government to address these concerns.”

The SFC spokesperson said: “Today’s research allocations reflect results from the recently announced Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise which underlined the strength of university research in Scotland.

“It is particularly encouraging to see high quality research extend right across all of our institutions in Scotland and we continue to invest our research funding in excellence wherever it is found.”

Jamie Hepburn, minister for higher and further education, said: “Scotland’s world class university research, and its key outputs of new knowledge and insights, are fundamental to green economic recovery and growth.

“Baseline grants for university research and innovation from the Scottish Government, via the Scottish Funding Council, increased by £4.7 million to £299 million for 2022-23 to maintain and strengthen Scotland’s excellent research base.”