HC Deb 15 January 1991 vol 183 cc722-3
10. Mr. Knapman

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects the new arrangements for the funding of scientific research in higher education institutions to become operative.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment to membership of the Agricultural and Food Research Council. To answer his question, the new arrangements for funding research projects supported by research councils in higher education institutions will take effect from 1 August 1992.

Mr. Knapman

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent reply, but will he assure the House that adequate arrangements have been made during the transitional period and that there will be no reduction in funds for scientific research?

Mr. Howarth

The reason why my right hon. and learned Friend deferred the introduction of the new arrangements until 1992 was so as not to disturb the existing cycle of grant applications and to ensure that the detailed preparations for the new system could be thoroughly carried out. He has invited the research councils to work with representatives of the higher education institutions and the Department to draw up a detailed specification of the new boundary and to put in place new grant application arrangements. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks on resources. The new arrangements will represent a cost-neutral transfer of funding responsibility from the Universities Funding Council to the research councils.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister accept that a market solution is quite inappropriate for this part of higher education and that there is a crisis in the funding of fundamental research in our higher education institutions, particularly in Scottish universities? How much of those funds is likely to be devoted to fundamental research in Scottish universities? The position must be rectified as soon as possible.

Mr. Howarth

It is healthy and proper that there should be selectivity, concentration on excellence and bidding for the available research funds. The money that the Government have made available for science has increased markedly. The money available through the science budget and the Universities Funding Council has increased by 10 per cent. The distribution of those funds, to Scottish institutions and elsewhere, is a matter for the research councils and the UFC.

Dr. Bray

Is the Minister aware that the proposed arrangements are another way of increasing the attrition of research funding in higher education and basic science generally? What are the Government's long-term objectives? Are they to remove all autonomy from institutions of higher education in relation to research strategy and to concentrate it solely in the hands of research councils and donors?

Mr. Howarth

There has been no attrition of funding. On the contrary, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), we have increased the amount of funding available through the science budget and the Universities Funding Council by 10 per cent. It certainly is not our intention that all the money made available from the taxpayer in support of scientific research should be channelled through the research councils. We are seeing a shift of a certain proportion of funding from the Universities Funding Council to the research councils so as to clarify where responsibilities lie. We certainly do not intend to end the dual-support system. It is important that funding should be available to universities through the Universities Funding Council so that they can support projects initiated in universities and, in particular, so that they can support the work of promising young scientists who are developing their scientific abilities and experience but who may not yet be at the point where they are able to make a claim on research council funding. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to give a fair hearing to these important education answers.