Devolve University Research Funding to Benefit Economy

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 27, 2011 | Go to article overview

Devolve University Research Funding to Benefit Economy


EARLIER this week, the Welsh Government's chief scientific adviser produced his excellent report on a strategic agenda for science in Wales.

Long overdue, Professor John Harries pointed out some of weaknesses that prevail in Wales and promised that science would be planned and led more effectively for the benefit of all of us.

To achieve this, the agenda would strive to increase the quality and reputation of Welsh universities as powerhouses of the ideas world, to teach and carry out top class research. It would also create an environment in which the business, academic and public sector worlds worked ever closer, encouraging innovation and cooperation, to translate excellent research into good business.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it would aim to increase the number and quality of jobs in industry, commerce, education, research, and innovation.

Indeed, one of the main driving forces throughout his report is that a more effective and coherent university sector, with a well-planned process of collaborating and growing skills and expertise, would help to grow the Welsh economy.

It has certainly rekindled the debate about the role of higher education in developing the prosperity of the nation although some will argue that the thrust of the current higher education strategy will do little to help in this respect, ie, all four of the main research-based universities - Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor and Aberystwyth - are remaining autonomous institutions for the foreseeable future, with only the less research intensive colleges being encouraged to merge.

But is Professor Harries stating anything new? Back in November 2002, I produced a report for the National Assembly's Economic Development Committee on the state of R&D in Wales.

Even then, it pointed out that Welsh Universities were receiving only 3.6% of total UK research council income for higher education, just slightly higher than the 3.3% reported for 2010.

Therefore, nearly nine years later, the research funding situation has hardly changed at all. Of course, the "elephant in the room" is whether research council funding, like other higher education budgets, should be devolved to the Welsh Government.

Having raised the issue with senior individuals within the Welsh university sector, there seems to be a general reluctance to do this because of unfounded fears on the levels of quality.

Yet, if this could be addressed properly, then it would secure an additional pounds 28m per year for Welsh academic research. …

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