Professor Dave Delpy – Previous CEO, EPSRC
Our 2010 Strategic Plan set out how we will keep the UK at the heart of global research and innovation. We aimed to deliver greater impact than ever before by focusing our research on the needs of the nation and committing greater support to those scientists and engineers who are world-leading. This plan was recognised by the Government and helped to secure a better than expected research budget for the next four years.
While our Strategic Plan set out how we will accelerate the pace of change, our Delivery Plan sets out a transformative agenda. It’s built around a ‘sponsor’ model of research management, in which funding is viewed as a strategic investment and not as a transfer of funds without obligation. Our delivery plan shows how EPSRC will be more proactive in shaping the research base to meet the UK’s needs, and yet remain committed to generating the fundamental knowledge and the skilled people essential to business, government and other research organisations.
One of the crucial underpinning objectives of our strategy is the goal of Shaping Capability. Shaping Capability is not just about how we allocate funds; it’s about ensuring that we have the right people, with the right resources, in the right places. Shaping Capability goes hand-in-hand with our role as a sponsor. We will make informed judgements about where funding should go and where our energies and resources should be applied. The decisions that we make will lead to some areas receiving more funding and others less. But these decisions will be based on a full understanding of our research portfolio and talent base, combined with evidence from key stakeholders and our advisory bodies.
Now not all of this is new. The launch of the RCUK Digital Economy Programme Research Hubs in 2009 is an example of where we have already invested in research and training through centres, centres that will build capacity and expertise in the skills needed to support an area of key global importance.
Another key goal is about delivering impact. A world class research base is valuable only in so far as it generates economic and social value - we will only be successful if we deliver that value. Delivering impact is not incompatible with supporting excellence. It’s not an either/or question. Anything that is excellent will have impact - if the pathways are right.
We’ve already worked with the community to establish Pathways to Impact and we will continue to lead cultural change within the UK science base, creating an environment that enables impact, in whatever form, to arise naturally from the knowledge base. We will embed the delivery of impact throughout our entire portfolio, asking researchers to consider Pathways to Impact at the outset of a project and to apply for the appropriate resources needed to achieve the impact that they identify.
It’s also important that we develop leaders. Maintaining the national engineering and physical sciences capability to respond to future challenges and opportunities does not happen by accident. Many of the global challenges we face require cross-disciplinary teams, using flexible funding. We will nurture the ‘thought leaders’ who set research agendas, and the visionary ‘team leaders’ who act as role models.
Support for studentships also remains a priority for EPSRC, but we must take a more strategic approach and prioritise the quality of the PhD experience in a broader environment across disciplines. Building on the success of our Centres for Doctoral Training, we are committed to the training of students in cohorts, but we will no longer support project studentships on research grants.
So, in short, our Delivery Plan is about getting the most out of the resources we have been given – the research we support; the facilities we use; the leaders who inspire us. And it means ensuring that we get the most use out of expensive capital facilities; training more PhD students in Centres of Excellence and sharing ideas and equipment with other research councils. It’s also about a greater collaboration with organisations like the Technology Strategy Board and with industry.
We will do all of this whilst still maintaining excellence. If we need to point to an example of investing in excellent, long-term, fundamental research that brought with it unexpected impact and application across disciplines, then we need look no further than Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov - two EPSRC -funded physicists awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for peeling away the mysteries of graphite and in so doing discovering the extraordinary material that is graphene. Our plans are aimed at encouraging more of this adventurous and creative research that keeps the UK at the forefront of engineering and physical sciences.
So what’s next? Well, having received our settlement and set out an overview of our plans for the next five years, we are now working on the detail of those plans through the coming months. We will continue to engage with our communities as we develop those plans and we’ll publish a more detailed Implementation Plan in the spring.
Our plan is ambitious and it cannot be achieved by EPSRC alone. We welcome your support and your commitment and we look forward to working with you to keep Britain at the heart of global research and innovation and to create a stronger, healthier and a more prosperous UK.