In the Spending Review at the end of last year, Chancellor George Osborne said that the Government aims to take forward recommendations from Sir Paul Nurse’s Review of the UK Research Councils.
The Nurse Review was carried out over a number of months in the build up to the Comprehensive Spending Review and the recommendations will lead to a significant restructure of the UK’s publicly funded research landscape. The Nurse review recommendations that the Government indicate they will take forward are to:
- Bring the seven Research Councils together under one accountable body – Research UK. This would support the seven Councils collectively, would speak with a strengthened voice to Government, take responsibility for cross-Council strategy, and simplify transactional operations, reducing the administrative burden on the Councils
- Incorporate Innovate UK into Research UK and increase engagement with businesses and the Research Councils
- Bring together a ministerial committee (or reconfigure the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology) to improve the Research Council/Innovate UK interface with Government and to help joined-up working across departments.
There is no clear time frame yet for when these changes will come into place as it is expected that primary legislation will be needed to create Research UK. So far there have been mixed reactions to the proposals. For example, although the aim of the ministerial committee is to put ‘science at the heart of government,’ there is particular concern over whether greater involvement of government around funding decisions will affect the impartiality of the research councils.
The positives that the industry can draw from the recommendations are:
- A closer alignment of the research and innovation/commercialisation agendas.
- The seven Research Councils will maintain their separate identities and remits, thereby keeping their subject expertise, leadership and legitimacy in their fields. It is hoped that they will also keep their legal ability to employ their own staff.
- In his report, Nurse caveated his suggestion to say that Innovate UK’s funding stream must remain separate from that of the Research Councils. Government has confirmed that this will be the case.
- Regardless of whether HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) is moved into Research UK, Nurse and others recommend that dual funding support should be maintained (i.e. funding for universities both through block grants – as currently administered by HEFCE – and through peer-reviewed competitive funding from Research Councils).
Our message to the Government is that during the restructure of Research Councils and Innovate UK into Research UK it is essential that business continues as usual for researchers and funding recipients, with minimal disruption and no hiatus to funding.
With opportunities to engage politicians including a cross-party discussion next week and a further event in February, BIA will stay involved in this issue and keep members up to date with developments. For more information on the BIA’s policy work please contact Dr Zoë Freeman.