'Blacklist' fear remains despite EPSRC's moves

May 14, 2009

Plans to bar researchers who make a number of unsuccessful bids from applying for further research council grants have been watered down after an outcry in the pages of Times Higher Education.

More than 100 chemistry academics wrote to Times Higher Education in March to protest against "draconian" new rules being introduced by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council that would "blacklist" applicants who had applied unsuccessfully several times.

The policy, which would have come into force at the beginning of June, would have seen academics banned from applying for EPSRC research grants for 12 months if three or more of their proposals ranked in the bottom half of the council's funding prioritisation list in the previous two years and their overall success rate had been less than 25 per cent.

However, the council has announced amendments "to address concerns raised by the community".

Excluded researchers will now be permitted to submit a single application during the 12-month period, and the new rules will not now kick in until April 2010 to give researchers more time to "adjust" their submission behaviour.

Despite the changes, researchers protest that they will still in effect be "blacklisted".

Universities will be told about anyone who falls foul of the policy or who is one proposal away from doing so, and the EPSRC will ask institutions to review these researchers' submission strategies.

Phil Page, professor of organic chemistry at the University of East Anglia, who wrote and drummed up support for the letter of protest, said that although the EPSRC had taken "some notice" of the community it served, the amendments did not go far enough.

"I should have liked to see the blacklisting abandoned altogether," he said, adding that academics who produced fundable proposals would still face exclusion.

In a statement, the EPSRC said: "We've listened carefully and responded with sensible adjustments to help those affected."

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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