Oxford first for research funds

Oxford has secured £118.9m of government money in the latest assessment from the Higher Education Funding Council. The sum will be the largest given to any university this year.

The success comes after the university performed well in the latest Research Assessment Exercise, which judges the quality of academic research. The exercise found that 70% of Oxford’s research could be classified as “world class.”

Dr John Hood, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, expressed his delight. “This is testament to the brilliance and commitment of our academics, and reflects both the breadth and depth of Oxford’s research activity.”

Oxford’s success comes despite several other universities, including Cambridge, gaining a higher average rating for their research in the RAE. A University spokeswoman said that while the proportion of Cambridge’s research rated internationally significant was higher, “in terms of absolute numbers we simply had more research rated 4* and 3* – ie, we have more world-class research. That’s reflected in the funding.”

Although Oxford and other traditionally research-intensive universities continue to dominate funding, they have lost ground in the latest round of assessments to newer universities, including Oxford Brookes. The trend is a result of the new methodology adopted by the research assessment exercise in 2008, which sought to reward “islands of excellence” in a much wider range of institutions.

Sir Roy Anderson, the rector of Imperial College London, told the Times Higher Education supplement, “the Russell group, which represents the major UK research-intensive universities, has collectively suffered a reduction in its share of the sector allocation of these funds.”

LSE has been hit particularly hard by the reforms, which have also seen a shift of emphasis in favour of natural science research. The college has announced that it faces a 13% reduction in research funding.

While Oxford’s RAE performance remained strong, university administrators here have shown signs that they are not immune to the concerns expressed by other Russell Group Universities. Dr John Hood was keen to qualify his joy at the funding, saying “the increase in this funding on last year does not keep pace with the increase in our activity or our costs. We will not stop urging our friends and alumni to support our world-leading research and teaching. That is more crucial in the current economic climate than ever.”

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Spokesmen for the new universities, meanwhile, said their successes reflected strengths in specialist areas which had been overlooked by the old assessment method.