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RES Statement on funding allocations arising from REF2021

The Royal Economic Society is deeply concerned by the research funding allocations by discipline for 2022 following the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2021. The REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions (HEIs) and is used by the four UK higher education funding bodies to inform the funding allocation to HEIs.

Hunt et al note a change in the funding principle for REF2021 whereby the share of total funding for the Main Panels (Medical Science; Physical Science & Engineering; Social Sciences; Humanities) was fixed at the REF2014 levels. They show that as a consequence, the Social Sciences lost over £100m of funding compared to what it would have been awarded had the funding methodology used for the REF2014 been repeated. The RES considers it a deeply unfortunate outcome that the Social Sciences has contributed the highest increase in research quality and the highest increase in FTEs of the four panels between 2014 and 2021 yet has seen its relative share of funding reduce in this way.

Hunt, Low and Smith highlight a secondary effect: that some disciplines within Social Sciences have seen their funding reduce because of big increases in total quality in other Social Sciences. The RES considers it a perverse outcome that despite a 58% increase in quality in Economics research, Economics funding has been reduced by 16%.

The net impact of this change in funding principle is that Economics has lost £6.1 million per year. The UK has had a preeminent role in the history of Economics and has one of the strongest global profiles with many top-ranked global departments being located in the UK.  Moreover, such academic departments have contributed time and again to strengthening government policy making both in the UK and elsewhere as evidenced in the impact case studies submitted to the REF.  Understanding policy challenges such as how to increase productivity, level-up left behind areas, enhance educational opportunities, meet carbon reduction targets, build housing and infrastructure and reform health and social care requires excellent academic research by economists.  To deliver this means support for the research in our outstanding economics departments and without this the research base will be eroded.

We do not believe that this funding settlement was intended to reduce research capacity in Economics. We strongly encourage funding bodies to rethink current funding policy to head off this substantial material risk to the UK’s historical excellence in the field of Economics.

Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow said: “As a country we currently have to wrestle with societal challenges caused by large economic shocks due to the Covid pandemic and war in Europe. We must also ensure that our economic policymaking in the next decades can help us with the difficult task of ensuring sustainable growth in the face of major challenges like climate change and protecting biodiversity. Economics as a discipline is a crucial foundation to effective policymaking in the face of these challenges.  It therefore seems perverse to reduce investment in UK economics research, in a discipline where the UK is globally excellent, at a time when we most need our economists.”

Lord Gus O’Donnell, who is Chair of Frontier Economics and who served as Cabinet Secretary from 2005-2011 said: “At a time when the government is having to make tough choices about the allocation of spending, it seems counterproductive to cut research funds for economics which is so valuable in making such decisions.”

Prof Lord Nicholas Stern, IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics and a Past President of the Royal Economic Society said: “The future of our economy, our prosperity, and our scope for future investment depend critically on sustainable growth in productivity. Now more than ever. Economics is the discipline which, par excellence, can inform policy and action for improvements in productivity, sustainability, and resilience. It cannot make sense to cut research resources for economics at this time.”

[ENDS]

 

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Discussion Paper by Timothy Hunt, Hamish Low, Sarah Smith on which this statement reports is available at bit.ly/3CKerBo
  2. A summary of the Discussion Paper is available on the RES website at bit.ly/3H0FT0m

 

The Royal Economic Society is a learned society founded in 1890 whose charitable purpose is to promote the study of economics. We publish two major journals and organize events including an annual conference. We encourage excellence, diversity and inclusion in all activities.