What’s been happening at the research councils?

RCUKlogoAs you will know, the Government has published a White Paper which details its planned policy to reform support for higher education and research, including proposals on the future of the Research Councils. ‘Success as a Knowledge Economy’ outlines how Government intends to take forward the implementation of the recommendations of Sir Paul Nurse’s Review.  What does this mean for the research councils, and more importantly, how will this affect the pots of money available for funding?

The quick facts on the over-arching changes are as follows:

  • New organisation to be formed: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI replaces RCUK (can you spot the difference?)) with John Kingman (HM Treasury) being appointed as interim Chair of the board for UKRIJohn Kingman
  • This will include the seven research councils plus Innovate UK and part of HEFCE (Research England)
  • New organisation to be headed by a single Chief Executive/Accounting Officer with existing RC Chief Executives to become ‘Executive Chairs’
  • Councils will retain names and will each have a council of 7-10 individuals (Council members will no longer be ministerial appointments)

The role of the UKRI will be as follows:

  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a new research and innovation funding body that will allocate funding for research and innovation and act as a champion for the UK’s world class system.
  • The names and brands of the Research Councils and Innovate UK will be retained.
  • UKRI will have a strong board with responsibility for leading on overall strategic direction, cross-cutting decision making and advising the Secretary of State on the balance of funding between research disciplines.
  • The board will manage funds with cross-disciplinary impact and a ‘common research fund’ as proposed by Sir Paul Nurse.
  • They 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 Councils will be responsible for the strategic leadership of their disciplines and on scientific, research and innovation matters.
  • The Secretary of State will set budgets for each of the nine Councils through an annual grant letter.
  • There would be a new legislative protection for the dual support system in England and they are formally restating the Government’s commitment to the Haldane principle.

The second reading of the Bill is likely to be in July and it will then go to the ‘Commons Committee’ for intensive work for 6-8 weeks.  However, given the current uncertainty of who will be running the country and which MPs will form a new cabinet, this could change (see the latest Research Professional article on the uncertainty of the HE and research Bill).

If the Bill does go through, the RCUK Change Programme will move to centrally led corporate functions, such as HR and Finance, but this will also include the grant funding platform.  They are aiming for a (much welcome) single common approach as the default for all activities.  The overall aim is for better ways of working and responding to new challenges, such as the Global Challenges Research Fund (see by blog post on what this is).

You may also have heard that the research councils are replacing their electronic grants submission service, Je-S, in 2017.  Please see my other blog post on how you can be part of the testing group for the new system.