Northern universities staff may lose jobs after their research quality is hammered

Oxford still tops the league table for research quality

Richard Garner
Thursday 18 December 2014 01:00 GMT
The University of Manchester was among the 'biggest losers', according to Research Fortnight
The University of Manchester was among the 'biggest losers', according to Research Fortnight (Rept0n1x/Creative Commons)

Northern universities have taken a hammering over the quality of their research, with academics facing the prospect of being made redundant after several institutions slipped down the rankings used to allocate funding.

New nationwide university research rankings – the first for six years – show that Oxford still tops the league table for research quality, but Cambridge has been forced into third place, overtaken by University College London.

While the UK’s research reputation is improving, Northern universities have generally fared poorly – with Manchester slipping from fourth to fifth, Leeds from eighth to 10th, Sheffield from ninth to 12th and Liverpool from 18th to 22nd.

The rankings will be used to allocate research funding of around £2bn a year from 2015/16. Controversially, a poor showing in the Research Excellence Framework table has in the past led to researchers losing their jobs.

It was revealed last week that staff at Warwick University’s school of medicine had been told their jobs were at risk if they did not meet a university target for research income.

William Cullerne Bown, founder and executive chairman of Research Fortnight, which produces the league table based on the rankings, said: “The biggest losers are Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Leeds. The North is taking a hammering. Oxbridge wins. London wins bigger. Almost everyone else in England loses.”

Universities can choose how many of their staff to put forward for review. A total of 52,061 academic staff from 154 UK institutions were involved this year. Overall, results showed a dramatic improvement; 22 per cent were ranked world-leading (up from 14 per cent last time) and 50 per cent internationally excellent (up from 37 per cent last time).

David Sweeney, research head at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said the findings would present a powerful case to the Government over funding. “If the UK is to be world-leading in the sphere of research, universities have to be at the heart of that.” He said rankings reflected the numbers of staff submitted: “Across the Northern universities, fewer folk have been submitted – there’s less research going on.”

But Professor Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chairman of the Million+ think tank, said: “Ministers and the funding councils need to deliver a funding formula that invests in all universities.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Universities must avoid using perceived low scores to try and make unnecessary cuts.”

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