Research Councils UK (RCUK) has published a full response to the Higher Education Green Paper and the Nurse Review, which sets out key principles that the Research Councils collectively consider should be the basis on which reform of the research funding landscape should take place.
The response relates to Part D of the Green Paper relating to the research landscape and to the broad direction of travel recommended by Sir Paul Nurse. It does not address individual questions specifically. Their overriding priority is to ensure that the UK’s world-class research is supported through the most effective and efficient means possible.
Sir Paul Nurse published his review of the UK research councils on 19 November. The full report is available here: Ensuring a Successful Research Endeavour: Review of the UK Research Councils by Paul Nurse. This follows close on the heels of the HE Green Paper (see this blog post for an overview), which stated that it would take the finding of the Nurse review into account alongside feedback received to the consultation.
The key messages of the Nurse review are:
Nurse strongly argues against the merger of the seven research councils.
Instead he recommends the establishment of a new body to oversee research – Research UK, “evolving out of” RCUK. Governance should include representation from government, HEFCE, Innovate UK as well as the research councils.
It’s functions world include:
- – engaging with government on behalf of the research councils
- – formulation of the overall research strategy for the UK
- – cross-council strategy, including best practice in research funding
- – managing cross-cutting funds for multi- and inter-disciplinary research
- – development and maintenance of research data management systems
- – taking on some shared admin / business support on behalf of the councils
The individual research councils should concentrate on providing “high quality strategic leadership to their research communities” in the shape of international quality peer review; speeding up grant assessments; improving reporting systems; ensuring diversity and strengthening links with their research communities.
The dual support system of research funding should be maintained and government should set up a ministerial committee to coordinate strategic research priorities across government.
He argues strongly for the retention of ring fencing for the science budget.
Not much. The primary focus is on teaching excellence and social mobility, however, it does reiterate and propose the following about research:
- Government is committed to the Haldane Principle, and therefore peer review and decisions on funding made by researchers.
Dual support system:
- Government is committed to the retention of the dual support system (allocation of research funding via block grants (currently via the REF) and competitive calls (currently via Research Councils)
- It is proposed to abolish HEFCE. HEFCE’s current remit in terms of research includes policy development and management of the REF and the allocation of research block grant funding.
- The Paper provides some options for replacing HEFCE and delivering the dual support system in future:
- Via separate bodies (as per now, i.e. a replacement for HEFCE’s research function and the Research Councils)
- Via one overarching body (i.e. one super research body that controls both parts of the dual support system)
- Neither of these are perfect. With option 1, one could argue that this would cause significant disruption in the sector and achieve no benefits to the current arrangement. With option 2, having one super research body calls into question how the integrity, transparency and fairness of dual support could be maintained?
- Sir Paul Nurse led a review of the Research Councils in 2015 and this is due to report soon. The Green Paper states that this will be critical in informing the final decisions made about research funding in future.
- The Triennial Review of the Research Councils 2014 noted a number of efficiencies that could be made to the work process of the councils and the Green Paper proposes that these are addressed.
- Government wants to ensure that discipline specific leaders remain a key part of the landscape.
Research Excellence Framework (REF):
- The next REF will be held by 2021.
- The review process itself will be reviewed with the aim of retaining the strengths of the current system (such as peer review), build on the successes (such as impact), and challenge the cost and bureaucracy associated with running such an exercise.
- There is likely to be a greater emphasis on metrics.
- There is the suggestion of running two types of REF exercise – a full peer review exercise periodically (e.g. every 6-8 years) with a mini REF held between full exercises (every 3-4 years) for which the focus would very much be on metrics.
You can read the full document here: Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice
The Green paper is open for consultation with the sector until 15 January 2016.
The Green Paper has now been released and proposes major changes to EU research and innovation funding in order to make participation easier, increase scientific and economic impact and provide better value for money. The changes, to be introduced in the next EU budget after 2013, will cover the current Framework Programme for research, the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. Read the full summary analysis to get a head start on what future EU funding may look like.