Reforming the Research Councils
The Research Councils together will continue to participate actively in a suite of government reforms involving BIS partners across the UK research and innovation funding landscape. These reforms aim to ensure the UK is the best place in the world to do research, to innovate and to grow businesses, whilst delivering the best return on public investment. They include:
- reform of higher education
- implementation of the Nurse Review recommendations
- BIS 2020 organisational and efficiency reform
- BIS common technology platform
- BIS grants programme.
We will work with government and BIS partners to bring together the seven Research Councils and dual support system as 'Research UK'. This new organisation will take responsibility for national research strategy, simplify transactional operations and reduce operating costs.
To ensure successful reform, we will be mindful of key principles identified by Sir Paul Nurse, government and the Research Councils. These principles include:
- commitment to the dual support system for funding UK research
- clear delegation from government for research funding decisions and their management
- commitment to the Haldane principle
- recognition of the breadth and scale of research investments within and across disciplines.
In preparation for reform, the Research Councils will plan and implement internal change and cost-reduction measures from 2016, ensuring that our changes support wider government reforms.
Our achievements so far
In partnership with AHRC and ESRC, EPSRC has already created a Professional Support Unit (PSU), bringing together common HR, Finance, Information Services and Project Management units so that Councils benefit from efficiency savings as well as harmonised approaches.
We have also operated an internal efficiency programme which has enabled the transfer of 26 posts from support functions to front-line delivery.
How will we know we are successful?
Evaluating Research Council investment
The UK's dual support system for publicly funded research provides a holistic and efficient investment appraisal and evaluation cycle compliant with HM Treasury guidance (HMT Green Book and Magenta Book: ROAMEF Cycle). Dual support: Higher Education Funding Councils provide stable 'quality-related' (QR) funding to support research capability in universities; Research Councils operate at arms-length from government under the Haldane principles and provide specific project funding to named researchers. Playing complementary roles, Research Councils focus on prospective quality assurance through rigorous peer reviewed competition for grants, while Higher Education Funding Councils focus on retrospective quality evaluation through the research excellence framework (REF). Besides informing Funding Council allocations, REF evaluates the excellence and impact (economic and societal benefit) of university research supported by all funders, including Research Councils.
For operational efficiency, Research Councils minimise further evaluation. Hence evaluation or audit of specific investments and processes, during or after their lifetimes, is selective and based on strategic need or risk. Large capital proposals require business cases and economic valuation to inform investment decisions and to evaluate benefits realised. Research Councils use their own and independent evidence, including REF, to evaluate performance against Royal Charter objectives, and longer-term impact outcomes.
Success can be measured in a variety of ways: EPSRC will continue to draw on information at a number of levels to monitor progress in achieving our expected outcomes. In the shorter term, we will focus on intermediate outcomes such as:
- maintaining research excellence in engineering and physical sciences
- the establishment or development of active communities of practice (involving researchers and 'practitioners' and multidisciplinary collaborations) in key areas, including in 'disruptive' technologies
- the extent of engagement of partner organisations (private, public and third sector) and level of commitment (leverage).
Evidence will also be gathered on longer-term outcomes and impacts such as:
- technology adoption by relevant practitioners and the resulting savings through efficiencies or improvements in delivery
- commercial exploitation, for example, the development of new technologies, products, processes
- growth of new industry based on the development of new/disruptive technologies
- influence on policy and practice, for example, through regulations, standards, or guidelines
- Improved quality of life for UK citizens through improved services or facilities.
EPSRC will continue to use research management information on its investments, including Research Outcomes information provided by grant-holders, as well as other sources, including evaluations, reviews and policy studies, to ensure successful delivery.