Letter: How America pays for research

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your education editor, Judith Judd, wrote of a movement towards what she described as "American-style" funding for research in UK universities ("New funds bring on a British Ivy League", 25 January), a style whereby "the Ivy League colleges receive proportionally far more research money than less prestigious institutions". From an American perspective, may I make two points?

The first is a minor point. The Ivy League is an athletic conference made up of a small number of north-eastern universities. Although the member institutions certainly are distinguished academically, they do not constitute a premier league with respect to research funding.

I would expect, merely as examples, such private institutions as Stanford, Chicago and Johns Hopkins, the Midwestern state universities of Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, or West Coast public universities such as California (Berkeley), UCLA or my own home, the University of Washington, to receive more extramural research funding than the typical Ivy League school.

Without doubt, however, some US universities receive appreciably more research monies than do others. The better-funded might be considered a research elite, but the mode of funding is worth noting. And this is my second, more important point.

By and large, extramural research monies in the US are awarded to individual investigators to enable them to carry out proposed research. The pattern of funding contrasts rather markedly with what I understand to be the new UK policy - allocating research funds to departments more nearly on the basis of their past performances.

Because of these differences in targeting - departments rather than researchers - and in rationale - to reward past behaviour rather than future promise - it is misleading to regard the change in UK research funding as any "Americanisation".


London NW3

The author is Emeritus Professor of Statistics and Psychology at the University of Washington