The challenge ahead

Posted by Professor Philip Nelson on 23 February 2015

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) recently published its updated Strategic Plan. Getting it right has taken time, significant effort, and could not have been achieved without the input and insight we received from across the community. Thank you to all who played a part.

So why have we done it? And, more importantly, what do we do next?

The national and international landscape in which we operate continues to shift. Therefore, we have evolved our goals and strategies to take account of this and to ensure we maintain focus on our ambitious, unchanged and unwavering vision: for the UK to be the best place in the world to research, discover and innovate.

Our previous Strategic Plan, developed in 2010, has been crucial in setting our direction. It’s building leaders through investment in Centres for Doctoral Training, Doctoral Training Partnerships, and Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology (CASE) studentships. Some £90million invested in Impact Acceleration Accounts has helped universities partner with industry to translate discovery into societal and economic benefit. The plan also guided difficult decisions in ensuring our investment delivers a strong UK science base capable of meeting today’s needs and the unknown challenges of tomorrow.

Our updated Strategic Plan describes the continued importance of UK science and engineering in addressing global and domestic challenges and its vital role in creating a strong economy. At its heart, it is a powerful argument for long-term investment.

Developing a delivery plan

It is big picture, and intentionally so. Discussing it with the community last autumn, we said operational detail would follow in our Delivery Plan, which is due to be finalised by early 2016. Developing that strong Delivery Plan will, again, require the expertise and experience of the academic community, and business, to determine how we can best put our strategy into practice.

Those conversations with our advisory bodies began last autumn. These fuelled discussions with our Council producing three key areas where we now need further input from the community to help shape our thinking:

  • Critical mass - How is it best supported? What are the strengths and weaknesses of models such as integrated investments that combine research and training, hub and spoke networks and EPSRC institutes.
  • The university eco-system - How might changes to the wider higher education model impact on the sustainability and quality of research, and how can EPSRC remain a positive force in this context
  • Relationships with the innovation landscape - What are the key opportunities for EPSRC, working with Innovate UK, to better support the translational pipeline for generic research?

These issues will be explored in depth at three university/industry workshops this spring, part of the year-long timetable to shape and refine our thinking.

We also want to continue the wider conversation with the community to capture issues outside the three outlined above. Our teams will utilise visits and workshops to raise these areas and collect additional thoughts.

We will listen and acknowledge issues raised, and this will help us further understand the pressures and challenges you face.

I am an academic engineer by background and I am acutely aware of the responsibility that I have as chief executive of EPSRC to help create the best environment for UK science to realise its immense potential.

One issue that is pressed upon me when I am out and about is the importance of “curiosity-driven research”. History has shown that so many of the great discoveries have come from scientists being well funded and unconstrained in the work that they do – we must never lose sight of that and I will ensure our plans put excellence first.

The last part of the engagement process is closing the loop. We will feedback on where we are and what we’ve heard, how we have used your contributions and we will keep the community informed of progress.

So 2015 will be an important year. The UK economic outlook remains challenging and there are no guarantees on future funding levels in any area of public spending.

Our updated Strategic Plan ensures we enter 2015 with clarity of vision and of purpose, and our track record demonstrates we can deliver for science and for the UK.

Now we must match it with a Delivery Plan that demonstrates science and engineering is a vital investment for a strong, successful and sustainable UK.


In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

philip nelson


Name: Professor Philip Nelson
Job title: Chief Executive
Organisation: EPSRC