RCUK – Strategic Vision 2011-2015

Research Councils UK have published their Strategic Vision This document sets out the themes and priorities for 2011 to 2015.  It addresses:

  • Research to address societal changes
    • Digital Economy, Energy, Global Food Security, Global Uncertainities, Lifelong Health & Wellbeing, Living with Environmental Change.
  • RCUK’s relationship with HE sector
    • Wakeham Review & full economic costings; managing demand for research funding;  allocating funding to research that addresses strategic priorities; encouraging the sharing of estates costs and the sharing of resources…
  • Research
    • Funding people & projects; training for a highly-skilled workforce, economic growth and sustainability of the research base; facilities and infrastructure.
  • Impact
    • Increasing our economic and societal benefits; choosing our research priorities; embedding impact; the evidence base of impact.
  • Partnerships
    • Working with the Technology Strategy Board; working with government departments; global partnerships; partnerships with society.

Invest in your libraries to help researchers

A new research report University Investment in the Library, Phase II: An International Study of the Librarys Value to the Grants Process suggests that there is a direct correlation between funding spent on university libraries and successful research funding applications.  The report is available online, or you can read the article in the THES.

Blue skies? Willets, the REF, Research Impact and Research Funding

Today, 9th July, the universities and science minister, David Willetts, in a speech to the Royal Institution, confirmed  that the REF is to be postponed for a year.  The problem with measuring economic impact of research would appear to be the primary reason. He has stressed the need to find a reliable measure of impact that would find consensus within the academic community. However, he also expressed the view that the significance of scientific research could not always be measured by its short-term economic impact, as with the unexpected benefits of blue skies research. “”The surprising paths which serendipity takes us down is a major reason why we need to think harder about impact.” Over the next year, the lessons of the pilot exercise and the experiences of other countries (e.g. Star Metrics in the USA) will be drawn upon.

Willetts rejected the previous government’s thinking on funding of scientific research and innovation.

You’re supposed to put money into university-based scientific research, which leads to patents and then spinout companies that secure venture capital backing. The mature business provides tax revenues for the Government, jobs for the local area, a nice profit for the university.

Yet, he said, on average only 3% of university income ever came from commercialisation of  intellectual property.

There were better ways of “harvesting the benefits from research”. Amongst these he said he favoured “clusters”, which he defined as “low-risk environment for high-risk activity”, citing the example of computer games and media companies based around Abertay University.

Government backing for research does make economic sense, he said, and the Research Councils’ funding of scientific research was effective in “generating wider benefits across the economy as a whole”. There may be cuts ahead, but essentially the dual funding system was working and he supported the Haldane principle.

In terms of his own thinking on policy for supporting and developing the research base, he believes that:

  1. Publicly funded research facilities ( Government support for “shared facilities – research platforms if you like – which private companies could not develop on their own”)
  2. Public procurement contracts given to innovative SMEs (“A purchasing contract can be as effective a way to get money to an innovative small business as a grant or a capital investment: this is particularly important at times when banks are so reluctant to lend.”
  3. Public competitions for new technologies (“And it need not be Government which sets the prize or the challenge – it can happen in marketplaces on the web too.”)

You can read the speech in full on the BIS website or read reports from THE & The Engineer.

Royal Society makes its case for Government investment in Scientific Research

In a wide-ranging report,The Scientific Century: Securing Our Future Prosperity, the Royal Society makes its case for government investment in scientific research and improving education in the sciences.

Warning of the dangers of any crude assessment of research impact, the report nonetheless regards recent clarifications from HEFCE regarding this element of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) as being reassuring.  It goes on to warn against the effects of any cuts in funding to academic scientific research, with a reminder how cuts in the mid-1980s led to researchers struggling “to remain at the cutting edge of their disciplines, using old equipment that they could not afford to replace”.  Investing in scientific research now, they argue, is vital: “Science and innovation are investments that are essential to short-term recovery and, more importantly, to long-term prosperity and growth.”

Recommendations of the report align strategically with investment in: interdisciplinary research (including a call for a reform of research funding and assessment in relation to this); overseas collaboration; improved skills training (including ‘transferrable skills’) for PhD students in the sciences; and a call to create “strong global challenge research programmes, led by RCUK, to align scientific, commercial and public interests”.

The report can be read in full on the Royal Society website at:http://royalsociety.org/the-scientific-century/

HEFCE publishes RAND Europe report on Research Impact Methodologies

News that HEFCE have just published Capturing Research Impacts: A review of international practice is of particular interest for Swansea University since we will be participating in the HEFCE Pilot Exercise on Research Impact.

This is the report Hefce commissioned from RAND Europe to bring together knowledge gained from international experiences in assessing research impact. The review will help inform development of this new aspect of the REF.  Notably, the review “suggests that the work of the Australian RQF Working Group on Impact Assessment might provide a basis for developing an approach to impact in the REF”. (See previous entries on this blog regarding the RQF.)

RAND Europe has already established experience in this area. See for example, Exploring the impact of arthritis research

Full report and executive summary are available at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rdreports/2009/rd23_09/

Funding the Research Base – 1994 Group Policy Report

Last month the 1994 Group’s policy report,  “The importance of the HE research base in addressing major global challenges and ensuring the UK’s future prosperity”.  was published.  The report argues in favour of the dual funding system and warns against spreading QR funding too thinly across the HE sector.  Several case studies are provided to illustrate the impact of QR funded research in tackling “global challenges”. Whilst acknowledging the need for collaboration and building links with business and industry, the report makes clear that the research base in the Arts & Humanities must not be ignored.

Investment must be made in new ideas and world leading research in the arts, humanities and social sciences, in addition to STEM subjects and medicine. Innovation draws on the entirety of the research base and, accordingly, the whole academy must be sustainable financially.

There is also a warning against Hefce’s new REF proposals placing too much emphasis on economic impact of research:

As part of REF, it is also important that the Funding Councils recognise the widest range of impacts that excellent research might have across different disciplinary areas, rather than focusing overly on economic impact interpreted in its narrowest sense.

The report urges the Government to “develop a national research policy that will target funding and support mechanisms” and makes the following recommendations: 

  •  Increase Government investment in research on a longer-term basis to enable universities to retain the scope to respond flexibly and rapidly to emerging challenges. 
  • Protect and enhance QR funding to allow universities autonomy and the capacity to invest in new and emerging areas, grow and support new talent, protect declining but important subjects, and initiate collaborations with new academic and business partners. 
  • Distribute QR funding according to excellence, while ensuring critical mass in world class research areas within our research intensive universities.
  • Support increased collaboration between universities and businesses at a regional, national and global level to build on signifi cant advances made on enterprise development that have been enabled by the Higher Education Innovation Fund
  • Complement investment in STEM subjects and medicine with continuing investment in new ideas and world-leading research in arts, humanities and social sciences, as innovation draws on the entirety of the research base. 
  • Ensure our future intellectual sustainability by providing the necessary resources to train the world-leading researchers of the future.

The report, and several case studies illustrative of the impact of QR funded research in meeting global challenges,  are available from: http://www.1994group.ac.uk/researchenterpriseexcellence.php 



RCUK Framework for the Future : Excellence with Impact

On the 20th October, the RCUK launched its Framework document. It aims to show how publicly funded research enables the UK to have a “productive economy, healthy society and contribute to a sustainable world”. The basis of the framework rests upon these “three mutually supportive areas”. The document can be downloaded from the website and there are also links to case studies and an interview with Professor Alan J Thorpe, Chair of RCUK.

HEPI response to REF proposals

On the 15th October, HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) published their response to the HEFCE proposals for the Research Excellence Framework. On the whole, HEPI is supportive of the proposals but is critical of plans to assess the impact of research. The introduction of impact assessment – i.e. non-academic impact – is something new and experimental. HEFCE are proposing 25% of the assessment score should be given to “impact”. The HEPI response views this as rather high given the experimental nature of the “impact assessment” element.
The report is available to download.