An Open Letter to Lord Mandelson

This week ‘The Guardian’ published an extract online of my response to Lord Mandelson’s article in its pages about higher education funding.  But I thought I would provide the full text here for interest. 

Dear Editor,

The Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, presents a stout case for why universities should see tighter budgets as an opportunity for diversifying their funding by, among other things, strengthening their collaboration with business and industry (‘Universities will benefit from tighter budgets in the long-term,’ 19/1/10)

However, it is disappointing that he neglects to mention another source of strength, namely the collaboration and partnership that exists between charities and universities in advancing research of the highest quality for patient benefit. In 2008-2009 the 120 members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) spent £935 million on research with the vast majority of this money (approximately 80%) going to higher education institutions. 

Furthermore Lord Mandelson is less clear about how the government plans to assist universities in attracting and incentivising charity and other sources of funding in the future. Our experience of the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) set up by the government in 2006 to cover the university costs of conducting charity-funded research is of funding lagging behind our ambitions and of a government reluctant to commit to its long-term future. 

 As a sector we remain committed to funding research through and beyond the economic downturn on behalf of our donors and supporters. But if, as the Science Minister Lord Drayson said last week at the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) science hustings, we should encourage more public giving to research in the UK as ‘part of the mix,’ the Government must demonstrate its commitment to this by supporting more robustly those incentives it already has in place.

….in other news this week, you may be interested to know that AMRC submitted written evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into funding cuts.  They are holding oral evidence sessions during February and it would be good to see the sector asked to come before MPs to give oral evidence.

I promise to write about something other than funding and cuts  next week.

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