The green paper and the Nurse review leave no doubt that the research policy and funding landscape could undergo quite a radical overhaul in the future. This comes alongside significant uncertainty about what the Comprehensive Spending review (CSR) will hold for UK research. It also raises questions around how to best meet the objectives and aspirations set out for the research base in the three documents, without diluting those elements of the current policy and funding structures that are absolutely essential to its health and continued success.The UK research base is one of the most effective and successful systems in the world. We have a global reputation for excellence, and – as also remarked last week in the Science and Technology committee’s inquiry into the science budget – the policy environment, dual support funding system and the rigorous and transparent way in which investment and funding decisions are made, have been central to our status as ‘science superpower’.
Maintaining the integrity of the dual support system is an absolute priority for UUK. Previous post on our blog have highlighted the strengths of this system; and it was encouraging to see these acknowledged in the Green Paper (alongside a reiterated commitment by government to safeguard this dual structure), and again in Sir Paul Nurse’s review of the research councils. However, the success – and integrity – of dual support need to be seen in the context of the principles, organisational arrangements and the allocation mechanisms that underpin it.Let’s start with the principles: it must be made clear that, to remain effective, dual support needs to continue being underpinned by governance arrangements grounded in peer-reviewed excellence and independent, expert day-to-day decision-making on research funding (as set out by the Haldane principle). This is not to say that, for instance, there isn’t any scope for improving the peer review-centred REF or support for interdisciplinary research across the Research councils, but for us it’s essential that any changes are approached sensibly and with due consideration to how these will impact the integrity of those principles.Secondly, and in line with Sir Paul’s recommendations, in a reformed research funding landscape, the integrity of dual support funding is unlikely to be preserved without: