Policy Lunchbox welcomes RCUK’s Dr Steven Hill

9 Mar

On Wednesday 2nd March Dr Steven Hill, Head of Research Council UK’s (RCUK) Strategy Unit gave a presentation to Policy Lunchbox on ‘RCUK strategy post-CSR’. Steven has kindly allowed us to make his powerpoint slides (PDF) available online which provide an excellent overview of his presentation, including some useful diagrams illustrating both institutional and regional concentrations of funding.

The discussion during his presentation raised some interesting (but not necessarily all new) points which are shared below.

On science funding:

  • The ring fence is around resource funding, which will prevent the shuffling of monies towards capital expenditure. There is the potential (and hope) for an increase in capital budget in future budgets (this sentiment was echoed in a recent Science and Technology Committee evidence session with the Heads of the Research Councils).
  • The ‘spikes’ (areas of concentration) on the funding landscape are issues which have been singled out as ‘societal challenges’ and are strongly multidisciplinary, reinforcing the message that collaboration will be key to securing funding.
  • Grant success rates are dropping despite rising budgets (in previous years) and the potential impact of constricting budgets is concerning. The need for mechanisms to control and manage demand is increasing. It is feared that in the face of so many applications, peer review becomes ‘less and less robust and more like a lottery’.

On Higher Education Institutions:

  • The diagram in the PowerPoint on institutional concentration (slide 19) is based on the top 30 Institutions only. Internal work in RCUK has suggested that the constraints on budget are unlikely to change significantly the pattern of institutional or regional concentration of funding.
  • Roberts money (also known as the Skills Training Development Fund) is finishing in its present ring-fenced form, but this does not mean financial support for this agenda has finished. Money for these activities will now be managed by Universities directly through fees for postgraduate research students and through the full economic cost elements in research grants.

On innovation:

  • It’s important that Technology and Innovation Centres are not seen as the magic bullet for innovation, they’re one component of a much wider agenda. Steven shared that he had heard them described as ‘the tungsten tip on the bullet of impact generation in the UK’.

On science post this CSR-period:

  • In considering UK science post 2014, Steven makes the case that UK science needs to be seen in a more global context. This would require a shift away from the current ‘UK science for the UK’s national benefit socially and economically’. Using Pfizer as an example in which one companies change in focus and subsequent global distribution will have ramifications in the UK at a local level, he suggests that we need to start thinking beyond our borders towards a collaborative global science agenda.

Policy Lunchbox is a joint initiative organised by the Biochemical Society and the British Ecological Society. It aims to bring together science policy officers with key decision makes and influencers to discuss current issues, over lunch. You can sign up to our mailing list through the Policy Lunchbox webpage.

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