Mathematical Sciences Strategic Advisory Team meeting June 2016

Note of the Strategic Advisory Team Meeting held in June 2016.

Alexandra House, Wroughton

Summary of 30th June 2016 SAT Meeting Notes
Alexandra House, Wroughton

Attendees

  • Professor Ken Brown (Chair), University of Glasgow
  • Professor Alan Champneys, University of Bristol
  • Professor Mark Girolami, University of Warwick
  • Professor Kevin Glazebrook, Lancaster University
  • Professor Arieh Iserles, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Paul A Milewski, University of Bath
  • Professor Graham Niblo, University of Southampton
  • Professor Beatrice Pelloni, Heriott-Watt University
  • Dr Richard Pinch, GCHQ
  • Professor Ian Strachan, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Philippa Hemmings, team leader Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Dr Michele Erat, senior manager Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Dr Derek Craig, portfolio manager Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Dr Katharine Moore, portfolio manager Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Dr Hannah Pearson, portfolio manager Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Dr Michael Ward, portfolio manager Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Mr Xavier Crean, Year in Industry student Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Mrs Beverly Wilks, delivery support Mathematical Sciences EPSRC
  • Dr Alison Wall, associate director Building Leadership EPSRC
  • Dr Nicola Goldberg, senior manager Balancing Capability EPSRC (minute 7)

Apologies

  • Dr Ben Dias, Tesco
  • Professor Lasse Rempe-Gillen, University of Liverpool
  • Professor Anne Juel, University of Manchester

Introduction

The Mathematical Sciences SAT meeting took place at Alexandra House, Wroughton, with an informal evening session on 29 June and a full day meeting on 30 June. The main agenda items encompassed the EPSRC Delivery Plan, Balancing Capability, as well as student and early career researcher support.

Meeting Notes

  1. Welcome and Apologies
    The chair welcomed all attendees to the meeting. Apologies had been received from Ben Diaz, Lasse Rempe-Gillen and Anne Juel. In addition to the Mathematical Sciences team, EPSRC was also represented by Dr Alison Wall, associate director for Building Leadership and Nicola Goldberg, senior portfolio manager in Balancing Capability.
     
  2. Notes from the last meeting
    The notes of the last meeting were agreed as an accurate record, although it was noted that they need to be edited slightly for consistency in naming individuals.
     
  3. Update on EPSRC issues
    Only items that were not tabled elsewhere in the agenda were discussed at this stage:
     
    • SATs Conference
      The SATs conference had been a success and the Mathematical Sciences SAT members had appreciated the opportunity to look at other EPSRC research area rationales for Balancing Capability.
       
    • CDT Directors Meeting
      The CDT Directors’ Meeting will be held on 15 July in London. All CDTs in Mathematical Sciences will be represented. The main agenda items are the upcoming mid-term review and user engagement.
       
    • Mathematical Sciences Infrastructure Review
      The SAT reiterated the statement from the Mathematical Sciences Infrastructure Review that the Isaac Newton Institute (INI) and the International Conference for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS) are seen as flagship infrastructure by the community and should be supported as such. In the wake of the review it is now important that EPSRC develops a clear strategy for Mathematical Sciences Infrastructure support.
       
    • Knowledge Exchange
      The Knowledge Exchange Review steering group is meeting on 1 July in London for their initial meeting, including Matt Butchers from the KTN, Alan Champneys, Richard Pinch, Philippa Hemmings, Michael Ward and Michele Erat.
       
    • The Influence of Maths Project
      The Influence of Maths project on the wider impact of Mathematical Sciences will be revisited over the next year. Derek Craig will be leading this activity. The SAT will be kept informed and have the opportunity to provide input.
       
    • Mathematical Sciences Early Career Forum
      The call for the Mathematical Sciences Early Career Forum is closing shortly. A good number and diverse set of applications has already been received. Many of the initial concerns around the selection criteria have been addressed to ensure that the Forum will encompass a broad range of views and experiences. It was agreed that the options for alternative career pathways could be brought out more clearly in a next iteration of the call document.
       
    • SAT Refresh
      The SAT refresh activity is currently underway, with the call for nominations closing on 1 July. There will be an unusually high turnover this year because members that had previously been extended are now also retiring. The normal term in office for SAT members is 3 years, but this varies depending on the natural cycle of business in terms of the delivery plan.
       
  4. EPSRC Delivery Plan

    Alison Wall introduced the plans for the creation of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the EPSRC Delivery Plan.

    John Kingman has been appointed interim chair of UKRI. The future relationship of UKRI with the QR funding bodies of the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales form an important part of the on-going discussions. Alison Wall reassured the SAT that the commitment to the dual support system for research funding is included in the UKRI bill to parliament.

    The SAT recognised the opportunity for a greater impetus for interdisciplinary work under the auspices of UKRI. On the other hand, the SAT raised concerns that further harmonisation of back-office functions across research councils could lead to a loss of the recognition of discipline specific challenges and their appropriate treatment. Specifically, the SAT would not want to see a harmonisation of support for postgraduate training across all councils.

    The Delivery Plan is setting out preferred outcomes and ambitions over the coming years. Council have agreed that that over the delivery plan period 60% of EPSRC activity should be researcher/community driven and 40% of the budget committed to strategically driven activities, including the grand challenges research fund (ATI, Henry-Royce Institute, UKCRIC etc.) Given the current baseline, there will need to be some readjustment to increase the level of bottom-up funding. It was confirmed that strategic interventions will be managed at the level of an activity, not an individual grant and emphasised that that quality is the primary selection criterion in peer review. EPSRC capability themes including the Mathematical community have traditionally been strongly driven by investigator-led, bottom-up funding. EPSRC will continue to communicate that the outcomes framework is not intended to tightly prescribe research or prohibit long-term discovery led research, but rather serve as an inspiration to seek out ambitious research goals.

  5. Opportunities for Mathematical Sciences in the Global Challenges Research Fund

    Hannah Pearson presented an overview of the Global Challenges Fund: Whereas a part of the fund will be distributed through individual research councils, the majority of the fund will be managed centrally. All GCRF research has to be ODA compliant. Further information on the scope of the funding and ODA compliancy.

    The SAT commented that the institutional calls of 2016 in response to GCRF funding given to Universities as a block grant were focused on very applied areas. Mathematical Sciences are involved in many areas of research in this area, such as capacity building, epidemiology, industrial applied maths, policy advice, mathematical ecology and sustainability etc.

    It was agreed that more input by correspondence would be useful and this would be managed by the EPSRC Mathematical Sciences Team over the summer.

  6. EPSRC Support for IHES
    EPSRC has provided support for the IHES institute for advanced mathematics and theoretical physics in Paris since 1971. In recent years the annual subscription has been £160,000. The SAT agreed that the support for the IHES in the current form did not offer the best value for EPSRC mathematical sciences and there was not a good case to continue the current subscription. It was confirmed that UK researchers could use other routes to apply for EPSRC funding to interact with IHES. It was noted that support for the IHES had not been identified as a priority in the recent review of UK mathematical sciences infrastructure. The SAT advised that consideration be given to the timing and communication of changes to the current arrangements. It was important to recognise the value of international collaboration and guard against perceptions that the UK was distancing itself from such arrangements. The SAT noted that although some options for different approaches to build international collaboration were mentioned in the paper, more thought needed to be given to these and potential other ways of supporting mathematical sciences researchers to engage internationally. This should be discussed at a future SAT meeting.
     
  7. Balancing Capability

    The SAT was reminded of EPSRC’s approach to deliver its strategic objective of Balancing Capability. Through a series of facilitated discussions the SAT reviewed and provided comments on all the research area rationales that were the responsibility of the Mathematical Sciences team. This responsibility includes receiving input from all relevant SATs. EPSRC staff will continue to update the rationales with input from the SAT and work them into final rationales for the September SAT meeting. The SAT was also asked to consider arguments for growing or reducing support for a particular research area or parts of an area.

    Following on from these discussions, SAT members were asked to identify areas of mathematical sciences where there were strong arguments for a relative growth or reduction over the next few years, taking into account the evidence assembled to date. This was noted as work in progress. Over the summer discussions would continue within EPSRC and the focus of the September SAT meeting would be to finalise views and recommendations.

    A roundtable discussion concluded this session. There was a general consensus that the Mathematical Sciences were an important enabler for a wide range of very topical research which should be recognised at a higher level, such as the SAN. The SAT voiced concern that a “reduce” label causes damage to the morale of researchers in the area and thus undermines the health of the discipline. The SAT stated that there is anecdotal evidence that a strategic label influences the hiring process within Universities. It will be important for EPSRC to clearly communicate that quality remains the primary criterion for peer review and thus highest quality research in a reduce area will still get funded. In response to a questions, it was clarified that although it is expected that most strategic interventions were likely to be in areas where EPSRC had identified the need to grow support, an area where EPSRC was looking to reduce relative current levels of support might still be targeted for investment in a focused manner, e.g. as a fellowship priority to build leadership.

  8. Balancing Capability: Areas linked to Mathematical Sciences
    The SAT agreed to provide comments on 6 additional research area rationales with close links to Mathematical Sciences over the next few weeks.
     
  9. DTP allocations

    Hannah Pearson gave a brief contextual overview of the changed landscape of doctoral student support by EPSRC. Ian Strachan introduced the Council for Mathematical Sciences (CMS) paper, which drew on information from a questionnaire sent to the Heads of Departments in order to understand how the change in the DTP algorithm and allocation process was affecting the Mathematical Sciences.

    The SAT was reminded of the changes to the DTP algorithm which now included the entire research grant and fellowships portfolio at an equal weighting. In addition, the separate Mathematical Sciences process had been discontinued and support for mathematical sciences was no longer specified separately. A further change was that all Universities in receipt of DTP funding were asked for a Statement of Strategic Intent. Guidance on this was provided and included a request to make explicit reference to proposed support for Mathematical Sciences.

    From the preliminary data collected, the CMS had concluded that especially in smaller institutions, Mathematical Sciences departments have lost disproportionate number of DTP students compared to the previous year. There is also anecdotal evidence that Universities often take an algorithmic approach towards DTP allocations, which at least in part involves the size of the research portfolio in a particular area. As Mathematical Sciences grant portfolios tend to be smaller than average due to the nature of the research, such a process would adversely affect the Mathematical Sciences. The SAT stressed strongly that students are the life blood of Mathematical Sciences research and disproportionately important compared to other disciplines, and that this was recognised by funding bodies internationally, e.g. in the US.

    EPSRC acknowledged the concerns of the SAT, but added that the panel looking at all Statements of Strategic Intent noted that the Mathematical Sciences had had the same opportunity as all other EPSRC subject areas to make their case for the importance of student support for their field. EPSRC also made the point that the DTP was providing a flexible grant to Universities to invest according to institutional priorities. Alison Wall reminded the SAT that the DTP was only part of the picture of student support by EPSRC and commented on the success of the CDTs in Mathematical Sciences.

    After an extensive discussion, the following was concluded: The Universities will report back to EPSRC on their DTP allocations early next year. If this trend identified by the CMS is reaffirmed, the SAT requested that the issue be escalated within EPSRC.

  10. Support for Early Career Researchers
    Derek Craig presented a paper from the Building Leadership team on some proposed changes to the current first grant scheme. The SAT overwhelmingly supported retaining a first grant type scheme with a cap, although they supported an increase in the flexibility regarding resubmission and possibly the duration of such a grant. The SAT advised that a high success rate of an early career support scheme was desirable to fuel the people pipeline and provide encouragement for researchers at the beginning of their careers. They were of the view that a cap was needed so that a reasonable proportion of first time applicants could receive some support at a time when it could provide a real boost to their career. The SAT supported the idea of a person specific mentoring scheme and suggested that this could include people management experience.
     
  11. AOB
    No other business was identified.

     

Date of Next Meeting

29 September 2016, London