The pound;10.5 million research programme to promote effective teaching and learning that was announced last week represents a significant revolution in the way that education research funding is distributed.
But education researchers hoping for a sudden influx of funds may be disappointed. Although the overall cost of the five-year programme looks impressive, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) admits that the cash will be generated by a judicious re-slicing of the existing funding cake.
It is also possible that some money will go to psychology and sociology departments rather than education researchers. Some cash may also be used to fund research training - either in the form of fellowships or studentships.
At present, HEFCE allocates research funding to universities on the basis of the four-yearly research assessment exercise. Departments with the most impressive research rating attract most funding, although the number of researchers in each institution is also considered.
In 1997-98, this system was used to allocate all of the pound;29.2m that the funding council earmarked for education research.
But the council - which provides about half of the country's education research funding - is now asking the Economic and Social Research Council to help it allocate about 11 per cent of this cash through the scheme announced last week.
In 1998-99, for example, the funding council will distribute pound;27.9m of education research funding in the traditional manner but pass a further pound;3.5m to the ESRC.
Such partnerships are not unknown in higher education but they are still rare. The ESRC will appoint the programme director and set up a steering committee of researchers and research-users who will decide which projects should be supported - in Northern Ireland as well as England.
But the ESRC has pointed out that the steering committee will follow a remit that emerges from "a major review of existing research and extensive consultation with teachers, education practitioners and researchers".
Professor Ronald Amann, chief executive of the ESRC, is determined that the programme should be of practical benefit to teachers. "We will be seeking to develop evidence-based teaching, showing what works best and why it does so," he said.
Professor Amann says that the results will be widely disseminated but hopes that close liaison between researchers and teachers will mean that the benefits of the research will be felt long before the end of the programme.
The first projects are likely to start in autumn 1999 following a call for proposals later this year. The type of issues likely to be researched include:
* Teachers and trainers: what it means to be a teacher, current styles and approaches, and the impact of different levels and types of resources; * Technology and learning: how and where IT can help teaching and learning; * Learning to learn: how to develop skills which assist lifelong learning; * Different educational needs: how gender, class, age, ethnicity, religion and other differences affect learning.