Belfast AUT Newsletter Issue no. 11 - October 2002
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University Funding Crisis

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The failure to fund university research in the draft NI budget is drawing widespread condemnation amongst businessmen, trade-unions and those concerned about the future of Northern Ireland. Government plans and the policies of the political parties all wish Northern Ireland to develop into a knowledge-based economy. It is acknowledged that a strong university research base and a source of quality graduates are major factors in attracting high technology industries. However, the politicians have failed to put their money where there mouth is. When taken with other aspects of the budget, the university cut signals the abandonment of the goal of a knowledge-based economy. These short-sighted politicians have implicitly accepted a future for Northern Ireland of low-waged jobs and unemployment.

In 2002/03 English universities were allocated £940M for research funding. This represents an increase of 5.9% from 2001/02. As part of the 2002 Comprehensive Spending Review an additional £250M has been allocated to research funding for the English Universities, to fund in full the outcomes of the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). In 2002/03 £180M has been allocated to research funding in Scottish universities. This represents an increase of 17% from 2001/02 and includes £25M to fund the results of the 2001 RAE. In Wales the core funding for university research in 2002/03 is £65.3M which represents an increase of 23% from 2001/02. In addition Welsh universities were awarded £6M in January 2002 following the outcomes of the 2001 RAE.

In 2002/03 £25.6M has been allocated to university research funding in Northern Ireland. This is an increase of just 2.5% from 2001/02 and the results of the 2001 RAE have not been funded. In the dying moments of the Assembly £1M was found for universities in 2002/3 and £3M promised for the next year. Although welcome, this is not recurrent money and does not change the issues.
In 2002/03 Northern Ireland has the lowest expenditure on university research per head of population and this differential will continue to increase given decisions already announced by other funding councils.

Scotland: £35.55
Wales: £22.49
England: £19.12
NI: £15.81

The need for improved research funding is even more acute in Northern Ireland as a disproportionate amount of R&D is undertaken by the universities which have been identified as the two largest single components of the regional R&D system, and therefore have a critical role to play in economic development. Indeed university R&D accounts for approximately 30% of Northern Ireland's total R&D activity. This is due to low levels of research in the private sector and an economy characterised by a large number of small and medium sized enterprises which traditionally do not engage in significant levels of R&D.
For every £1m of economic output from higher education, a further £1.56 million is generated in other sectors of the economy. A weakening of the research base will have serious implications for the Northern Ireland economy.

In a letter to AUT just before she left office, Carmel Hanna, Minister for Employment and Learning, recognised the universities' contribution to the economy and society in Northern Ireland. She said that her bid for research funding increases commensurate with those in England had not ranked high enough to be successful. But she then went on to raise the SPUR funding in a way that could cause further damage. The SPUR money is not recurrent money, but is to build facilities for international research. Besides the current building programme a new round, SPUR2, of £50M was recently approved but not yet allocated. In both these programmes half of the money is being put up by an American benefactor strictly on the basis that the Government's share was additional expenditure. By implying that the Government's SPUR money compensates for the promised recurrent funding she puts the additionality in question and jeopardises the benefaction. The SPUR programme can in no way compensate for lack of recurrent research funding. Even if the benefaction is not revoked, QUB could be left with white-elephant facilities to maintain with nobody to staff them if recurrent funding is not provided.

The academic, research and support staff bust their guts producing greatly improved results in the Research Assessment Exercise. Now they are angry at not getting the promised reward to enable them to continue their quality research. Without these resources many academics and researchers will reluctantly move elsewhere to preserve their careers. The consequent inability of QUB to attract research contracts will multiply the decline. (For every £1M of public research funding QUB generates about £1.85M from external grants and contracts.)

QUB spent £25.6M of its resources on the recent Academic Plan on the basis that the 2001 RAE would be fully funded, and an extra £6.5M per year from 2002/03 should have resulted. If this money is not forthcoming the financial consequences for QUB are grave. The Management are forecasting job losses of around 150. As three quarters of QUB expenditure is on pay, job losses would be unavoidable and, when you take into account the multiplier effect mentioned above, I cannot dispute this as a ball-park figure. Many staff would vote with their feet, but there could also be pressure for compulsory redundancies. Those who stay would also suffer through blighted prospects and greatly increased workload. In June the V-C proudly stated that Queen's was knocking at the door of the Russell Group of elite universities. Unless the research funding is restored QUB and the Russell group will be heading in opposite directions. All this is why we must pull out all the stops to get the NI draft budget changed.

The first thing to go would be the 90 QUB funded Research Studentships. Academics and research support staff are then likely to be targeted. As research-active staff leave the difficulty that QUB would have in attracting research contracts would lead to a reduction of researchers and technicians. The teaching workload would be carried by far fewer staff, and that may cause more to quit. The declining status and facilities will eventually affect students and the better ones will seek their education outside Northern Ireland. This loss of quality graduates will further harm economic prospects and reinforce the direct damage. (For every £1M of economic output from higher education, about a further £1.56 million is generated in other sectors of the economy.)
All we ask is parity in research funding with GB!

Paul Hudson, based on QUB's submission

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AUTís regional office sent a response to the draft budget to Dr Esmond Birnie, Chair of the Employment and Learning Committee of the Assembly. QUB has also made a submission containing similar data.

Under-funding of
Research in Northern Ireland

Everyone connected with higher education in Northern Ireland was expecting extra funds to be allocated for research in the Northern Ireland universities. This expectation was based upon the high emphasis placed upon the knowledge-based economy and the level of spending on research elsewhere in the UK. Figures from the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) show the degree to which research in Northern Ireland has been under funded.

Index showing Recurrent Funding for Research 1992/93 to 2000/01

  1992/93 1997/98 2000/01 Real % change
Great Britain Cash funding £681.0M £869.0M £1,059.4M  
Index 1992 =100 110.14 122.8 +22.8
Northern Ireland Cash funding £25.0M £24.4M £25.4M  
Index 1992 =100 84 80.2 -19.8

Source: Department for Employment and Learning

Income as a proportion of the population Northern Ireland


The Scottish Executive is currently undertaking a review of higher education to identify how to maximise benefits from investment in research and teaching. Annual funding for the HE sector will exceed £800M by 2005/06, over £100M more than 2002/03 and an increase of nearly 15% in cash terms, and in real terms year on year increases of 1.3%, 3.5% and 1.9%. In addition, an increase in funding for science and research has been announced, of £10M for 2002/03 and 2003/04, to be boosted by £25M for 2004/05 rising to £35M in 2005/06


The overall level of expenditure in Wales was announced in May. For 2000/01 grants and all fees totalled £333.4M (5.2% increase), for 2001/02 £360.2M (8% increase), 2002/03 £366.0M (1.6% increase), 2003/04 £380.9M (4.1% increase), and 2004/05 £382.6M (0.4% increase).

Republic of Ireland

There has been a large expansion of the public research budget in Ireland. Under the 1999 National Development Plan a provision of IR£1.2bn has been made for research, technical development infrastructure, and innovation. Since 1999, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has allocated 605m Euros for the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions, where funding is provided for research programmes, research personnel, and capital infrastructure. Over the next 5 years 600m Euros will be allocated for research in the two nationally identified strategic growth areas of biotechnology and ICTs.

Postgraduate Study

A DEL statistical news release of 30th September shows that post graduate first year enrolments have fallen in the last year. Full-time enrolments have decreased by 3% (72 students), whilst part-time enrolments have decreased by 10% (209 students)

The Knowledge-Based Economy

A study by Local Futures shows that Northern Ireland is the poorest performer in the private sector knowledge economy. Sectors of the economy with at least 25% graduate labour accounts for less than 20% of employment in Northern Ireland.
Implications for Northern Ireland

The knowledge economy is the principal way forward for the Northern Ireland economy, as it is in Britain and the Republic, being the main policy framework for employment, competitiveness, and economic growth. Knowledge transfer is of central importance to the knowledge economy. In Northern Ireland, greater knowledge transfer will not take place without a sustained increase in research funding.

Many research departments in universities throughout the UK are in deficit but the impact is felt much greater in Northern Ireland institutions and this has a direct impact upon the economy. Any loss of revenue at Queens or Ulster has a more direct impact on the Northern Ireland economy than UCL does on the M25 area, or even Manchester on the North West economy.

The statistics above show that Northern Ireland universities have persistently suffered under funding in research. The figures also show other regions of the UK, that Northern Ireland compete with, have recognised the importance of investing in publicly-funded research. The stock of new knowledge and the flow of ideas from universities to businesses and dissemination throughout the economy will determine future prosperity in Northern Ireland. To move away from a low wage economy Northern Ireland must invest in university research in order to achieve high productivity with a well-educated workforce. This in turn will attract investment and high quality personnel to the province.

To summarise - spending more on research will:

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The political upheavals have disrupted our campaign and we have lost our chance to give evidence to the Employment and Learning Committee of the Assembly. We still have a meeting with the civil servants in the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) on 29 October. AUT will be organising a lunch-time march or demonstration at the DEL HQ in Belfast city centre on about Wednesday 6 November. Details will be announce later as obviously we would like to meet the Minister. The UK Minister who has taken over responsibility for the Department of Employment and Learning is Jane Kennedy.

With the suspension of the Assembly the UK Minister and the Westminister MPs become the target for lobbying and letter writing. But do not let the MLAs off the hook - they are still being paid to represent you, they were responsible for drawing up the draft budget and some of them may be in charge in the future. Start writing letters to any that you know now. There is plenty of material in the preceding pages. Add personal details of the importance of your work and how you are going to be adversely affected. If you are now considering leaving Queen's, then say so! Stress the impact on the Northern Ireland community, and say that all that we seek in research funding is parity with GB! To make sure that the letter cannot be ignored, ask non-rhetorical questions, preferably ones which will require work by their staff or civil servants, and which will educate all concerned. Alternatively, invite them to come and see your work or seek a meeting with them. If you do meet with a politician always hand them at the end a single sheet summarising the points that you came to make. (AUT will prepare a suitable one if required.) Belfast AUT hopes to set up a lobbying aid on the national website ( and then click on campaigns). This should contain a draft letter for you to personalise and a facility to email it to all the politicians of your choice. Details will be announced later, but investigate what has been set up in a few days time.

The role of the Northern Ireland Higher Education Committee (NIHEC) is to give independent advice to the minister, and it is the nearest thing that NI has to a the funding councils in GB. When AUT met with its new chair, Tony Hopkins, on 1 October we were disappointed at his unwillingness to get involved on the research funding crisis. It may be useful to bend the ear of other members of the committee.

Those for whom we have addresses are:

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The decision to discontinue the teaching of Greek and Latin was the most controversial part of the new Academic Plan, and the debate has not died down. There were many letters in the British and Irish press from organisations concerned with Classics and from distinguished scholars of all types. These have been gathered together in a booklet by supporters of Classics and sent to members of Senate (the governing body). They have also organised a petition. Copies of both can be obtained from Michael Allen, Institute of Irish Studies. The Chair of Senate has written to its members about the data concerning Classics. It is likely that the issue will be reopened at the meeting of Senate on 25 October.

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There's another one behind...

Articles on Fixed-term staff and other topics have been held over to the next edition.

© 2002 Belfast Association of University Teachers
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