A mere letter?

February 16, 2017

At its final session in committee on the Higher Education and Research Bill on 30 January, the House of Lords debated amendments on the proposals for UK Research and Innovation. Lord Prior, only a few weeks into his appointment as parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, had to promise the Lords a “letter” on numerous technical points raised. His letter, dated 8 February, has now been deposited in the House of Lords library.

It covers a number of practical matters raised by various peers. Will the committees to be heirs of the present research councils be free to form their own partnerships? UKRI “will adhere to the core principle of subsidiarity” although “legal agreements will be with UKRI”. Will Innovate UK have its own budget within UKRI? Budgeting to replace the present combination of block grant for infrastructure and separate project funding will have to come out of a single annual sum. Will some of this now go to Innovate UK? Yes, Innovate UK will be “retaining its separate budget”.

UKRI will take the lead on “knowledge exchange”, and funding arrangements for Higher Education Innovation Funding will continue to stretch across both teaching and research. There will therefore have to be “joint discussion” between UKRI and the Office for Students about “strategic objectives and the criteria for HEIF funding”.

Will the funding available for university research have to stretch to cover research entities that are directly funded by government? UKRI will be asked “to conduct a review of eligibility criteria”.

Where will powers lie to employ staff? Councils (committees) will have “powers” to appoint a small number of key individuals acting as subject-matter specialists within councils and their institutes.

These are not minor matters and it seems a pity that this information should be buried in a mere “letter”. It may be found online but not directly linked to Hansard.

G. R. Evans

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