A fresh wave of brain drain to the South East is feared amid reports the Government is pondering an overhaul of research funding.
Concern is mounting that control over project funding will be handed to the Research Council, a national body which in the past has favoured the ‘golden triangle’ universities in the South.
As it stands, a research budget - called quality-related (QR) funding - is held by regional education chiefs, but Universities UK claims that model is “under threat” and it is preparing a “robust case” for locally-held decisions.
It comes as a study by the House of Commons library reveals the region lost 21,500 knowledge economy jobs - covering highly paid sectors like IT, life sciences and professional services - between 2009 and 2013 while the South East gained 225,000.
Programme Leader for Universities UK, Jamie Arrowsmith, said: “Recent announcements by Government suggest that the role and purpose of funding streams that enable universities to make decisions at the local level are under threat.
“Only last week at a board meeting of Universities UK members’ we were told we need to be prepared to make a robust case in support of quality-related (QR) funding.”
Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, said: “The North East has real strengths in research but if the Government stops funding the underlying research base and just gives all the money to its pals in the South East then that could threaten our continuing success and tempt the best and the brightest away.
“The North East has a lot to offer young researchers and their families - great quality of life, great people, great countryside - but we also need to be seen as a centre of research and innovation in our own right.”
Bob Hudson, a public policy academic at the University of Durham, said the move could see North East universities focus on national strategic projects rather prioritise projects the region could benefit from, such as exploring poverty or obesity.
He added arts and humanities could be the biggest losers and called for Government chiefs to devolve the decisions to a regional power.
“The proposal from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills for the future seems to be to concentrate all research funding into the national research councils,” he said.
“Universities will lose a stable source of research income which is used to develop a thriving research culture. Funding will be transient and uncertain - this is inimical to the development of a thriving research culture.
“Research funding will have to fit national priorities not regional priorities and interests. Arts, humanities and social sciences will be particularly badly-hit.
“At a time when devolution is said to be at the heart of decision-making, this proposal will remove research funding from regional control and put it all in the hands of national bodies with their own national agendas.”
The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said it had recently underlined its support for QR funding streams.