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Fears for drop in standards as universities face civils cutbacks

OVER TWO thirds of English universities are facing major shortfalls in civil engineering and built environment research funding next year, raising concerns over the standard of undergraduate education.

Twenty eight universities, including established names such as London's City, Liverpool, Loughborough and Surrey face big cutbacks when funding for 2002 is announced tomorrow. Some new universities face cuts of up to 66%.

Academics fear that cuts in research activities will be felt across the academic system:

'The people who will suffer will be the undergraduates who will be fed into teaching factories, ' said Nottingham Trent University vice-chancellor Ray Cowell.

'If we are to open up to new tranches of first year candidates, it is important that we offer them high quality, higher education, which must include a research component.'

The cuts are the result of a change in policy by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which allocates around £10M a year for civil engineering research.

HEFCE bases its allocation on a 'research assessment exercise', which rates the quality of research in UK universities and colleges on a scale of one to five, with 5* for exceptional performers. The RAE occurs once every four to five years, with the last in 2001.

Traditionally, HEFCE allocates cash on a sliding scale to all universities scoring three or more stars. But for 2002/03, the majority of funding will go to 5 and 5* universities.

Universities also gain funding from research bodies and industry as well as the HEFCE to support their research.

But many universities that have evolved from former polytechnics have yet to develop alternative funding, leaving them exposed, said Loughborough University deputy vice-chancellor Ron McCaffer.

'Post-1992 universities, with very little research income, will be emasculated. Without council funding, there will be a dent in budgets that will have to be met from somewhere.'

INFOPLUS www. rae. ac. uk

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