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When ten into two doesn’t go?

  • 18 May 2016


In many ways, the biggest shift from the recent past in the new higher education green paper is the redrawing of the research landscape (as I originally noted in a Times Higher blog).

The white paper says:

‘There are currently ten arms’-length Government bodies operating in the higher education and research space. We will reduce this to two. We will establish a single market regulator, the Office for Students (OfS) and a single research and innovation funding body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).’

This is bold stuff. Until recently, it was once thought the autonomy of the UK’s universities and the history of co-regulation might insulate higher education from the quango cull that has affected vast swathes of government policy in recent years. But it was not to be.

And yet…perhaps the reforms are not quite as radical as originally thought. The white paper simultaneously portrays the changes to the research landscape as a radical piece of simplification and a modest change that retains the identity of, for example, the seven separate research councils.

While HEFCE is to subsume Offa, it is also to be split, with its research functions ending up in UKRI. Innovate UK is also to be subsumed into UKRI, as are the seven research councils. So UKRI takes the place of many other bodies and yet it will not be run as one seamless organisation.

The white paper states:

‘We will retain and strengthen leadership in specific research discipline areas, innovation and England only research funding by establishing nine Councils within UKRI with delegated autonomy and authority.’

The paper also says the Government will set the budget for each council annually and that ‘The names, brands and symbolic properties of the Research Councils and Innovate UK will be retained.’

Perhaps, as Ministers claim, all this will leave the UK research base stronger by making it easier, for example, to support interdisciplinary research. To guarantee this, a little more money will almost certainly be needed but nonetheless it could happen. As shown in the picture above, it is much less certain whether the change is really any simplification at all.

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