Autumn facelift for tatty laboratories

September 18, 1998

Universities are eagerly eyeing the Pounds 600 million joint infrastructure fund for refurbishing decaying laboratories and replacing obsolete equipment.

The fund was announced in July as part of the comprehensive spending review. Calls for proposals on how to spend the money will be made on October 1, with a deadline of December 4. Details such as the typical size of an award and the sharing of money between subjects have yet to be fleshed out.

Half the cash comes from the Department of Trade and Industry and half from the Wellcome Trust. It will be allocated by a committee chaired by Sir John Cadogan, director general of the research councils and Michael Dexter, the director of the Wellcome Trust. The chief executives of the research councils, staff from the Wellcome trust and representatives of the Treasury will sit on the committee.

Applications will be peer-reviewed, perhaps by the existing research council panels and Wellcome committees that assess proposals for research grants. Mechanisms for comparing highly-rated proposals from different subject areas have yet to be identified. Physical scientists and engineers are concerned that their subjects will not be rated as highly as the biological sciences, due to Wellcome's influence.

The research councils are also jostling for position in the run-up to the allocation of extra funds for research grants. An extra Pounds 400 million over three years will be shared between them next month.

The higher education funding councils also received Pounds 300 million over three years for refurbishing university labs in the CSR.

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