What did EPSRC do?
Today there has a protest in London against the recent policies of the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The idea of driving a horse drawn hearse through the streets proclaiming the death of British science is, in my view, somewhat childish and probably a distraction to what is happening in the UK funding scene, but what is it that seems to have gotten so many UK engineers and physical scientists so het up about things? Even the UK’s most recent Nobel Laureate has written a letter this morning decrying the policies being implemented, and he has recently (sort of) been awarded a de facto research budget in the tens of millions by EPSRC recently?
There are, it seems, a couple of issues floating around this topic, which appear to get intertwined and confused. There is an issue of an overall reduction in research council budgets, and the Campaign for Science and Engineering discusses this in a statement today, but running in tandem to this is an issue with structural changes relating specifically to the EPSRC, and it seems to me that it is these that many are really protesting about, and if not protesting, somewhat exasperated with.
I want to try and think out loud about a few of the issues I think that EPSRC has gotten itself into a mess over, and will try and look at these various issues in a set of discrete posts. Here I want to summarise the points:
- Restrictions on proposal submissions
- Removal of PhD studentship applications from grants
- Shift to Doctoral Training Centre model
- The inclusion of Pathways to Impact
- Adoption of a national importance statement
- The removal of direct PPE funding
- The move to larger, often EPSRC internally driven, grants
- Matching funding requirements for equipment with separate business cases for expensive equipment
- Back dating of rules to cover submitted proposals
- Shaping our capability programme
- Communication issues – disconnect from research community, issues over consultation
- Move to metric based outputs
Just for clarity, I currently receive EPSRC funding through a conventional grant, and have EPSRC money supporting departmental PhD studentships, and have had other grants in the past – but I am not a big player in the grand scheme of things (I’d quite like to be, but that’s a different issue), so the points of view expressed here come from the perspective of someone who would like to get more out of EPSRC and who sometimes despairs of how EPSRC reach their decisions. In addition, Dundee is not a huge beneficiary from EPSRC – we have some big grants, but not nearly as many as I think we could have. The fact that we are a small player in this regard also has bearing on how future EPSRC decisions might impact both the University and myself. While much of what I will say comes from an ‘expert’ user, some will likely be based on hearsay and anecdote. So not terribly scientific, but an honest view.