New funds bring on a British Ivy League

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The Independent Online
Elite universities in Britain are moving closer to an American-style Ivy League, after government advisers decided to give them their biggest ever share of research funds.

In the United States, the Ivy League colleges receive proportionally far more research money than less prestigious institutions.

Leaders of the quango which distributes university funds in the UK have agreed that departments awarded top ratings of five or five stars in last month's research assessmentwill receive three or four times as much money as those rated average.

Grade one/two departments, concentrated in the former polytechnics, will receive none of the pounds 680m research funding. Four years ago only departments rated one received nothing.

Alice Frost, policy analyst at the Higher Education Funding Council, which distributes the money said: "It is more selective because more money is going to top-rated departments ... we think it recognises world-class excellence."

Only 20 universities have 10 or more five or five star departments - those with research of world-class standard. The list includes Oxford, Cambridge University College London, Bristol, Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester and Imperial College.

More departments have been rated five and five star this time than in 1992. To ensure that dons in these departments receive the same level of funding as before, the amount of money for less successful departments has been squeezed.

Some former polytechnics, such as Staffordshire, de Montfort and Liverpool John Moores, have a comparatively high number of departments rated too. These departments will be eligible for money from a special fund but the amounts involved are expected to be small.

Ms Frost said the former polytechnics would get more money overall because their ratings had improved but the gap between the top and the bottom would be wider. The same was true of the older institutions.

The exercise has brought to the fore the old rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford may benefit most because it has a higher proportion of five star departments than Cambridge. Oxford chose to enter a small proportion of its academics than some other top universities such as Cambridge, the London School of Economics and Warwick in the hope that it would achieve higher ratings.

A spokesman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors said: "It is a pity that there is not enough money to bring on more people in research but, if we have to be selective, it is better to concentrate the money than spreading it more evenly."

A spokesman for de Montfort University said that it was pleased with its progress in the research ratings. "We want to compete on equal terms with everyone else, though it would be nice if we had research funding for 35 or 40 years like some of the universities we are competing with."