HC Deb 13 March 2003 vol 401 cc413-4
3. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

If he will make a statement on his policy on science research funding in universities. [102701]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge)

The Government are committed to supporting and encouraging the highest quality research to ensure that we continue to compete internationally. We have recently announced the most generous research settlement for many years, with expenditure on science and research increasing by £1.25 billion a year by 2005–06 compared with 2002–03—an increase of around 30 per cent. in real terms.

Hugh Bayley

I congratulate the Government on their generosity to the university of York in capital funding. The university has responded, with biological scientists there winning more research funding per capita than any other university in the country, and gaining the highest scoring in research evaluation exercises—but York loses out on revenue funding because it is a relatively small university. Will the Minister look at that problem to ensure that universities are rewarded according to the quality of their research output, not just the quantity?

Margaret Hodge

Like my hon. Friend, I congratulate the university of York on the high quality of its research and on its success in the recent research assessment exercise—but I do not recognise his figures. The figures that I have suggest that the university's research grant has gone up by £2,136,000 to £16,680,000 for 2003–04. I will,however, re—examine the moneys that have been received by the university from the Higher Education Funding Council to assure myself that the allocation is fair and just. I completely take the point that quality, not size of unit, has to be a factor in determining the allocation of research funding.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)

Is the Minister not alarmed that universities appear to be equally concerned about the policy for science, as set out in the White Paper, and issues concerning access? How does she propose to resolve the practical problems surrounding recruitment to research if the base is to become smaller and more intensive, and the practical problems of collaboration in science, which badly affect university teams that may be currently small, but are excellent?

Margaret Hodge

The allocation of research funding for HEFCE this year is the beginning of a move towards ensuring that we can support properly the most excellent and world-competitive research that is essential to the development of products and services. We are talking to HEFCE about how we put into place financial levers and incentives to encourage collaboration, not just across departments—to get interdisciplinary research working—but across universities so that where there is a small but excellent research capacity, it can be encouraged to work with other equally excellent research capacities in other universities.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

A study reported in The Guardian today suggests that low pay among academics is a major cause of weakness in our science research base. Will the funding allocated by the Government directly address the problems of low pay?

Margaret Hodge

We have given the most generous settlement to higher education in my living memory, with a real-terms increase of 6 per cent. in funding each year for the next three years. One of the reasons for the generosity of the settlement is that we recognize the issue of the pay of academics. If we are to recruit and retain the best academics in British universities, we must address pay, and we have put the resources in place to enable universities to start to do that.