Councils let off on research cost

July 31, 1998

RESEARCH councils will not have to bear the full indirect costs of their research projects in a move that rejects advice from the Dearing report and the House of Commons committee on science and technology.

At present, the research councils pay 46 per cent of the non-academic staff costs associated with their projects. These expenses include laboratory premises and central computing, and are covered by cash from the higher education funding councils.

Dearing had recommended that the research councils paid at least 60 per cent and in some cases 100 per cent of these indirect costs, a view supported by the Commons committee.

But this week, Tony Quigley of the Office of Science and Technology told the committee that the contribution would remain at 46 per cent. The rest of the research overheads will continue to be met by the funding councils.

"This is the dog that did not bark," said Ian Halliday, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

The decision means that the extra Pounds 400 million over three years that was allocated to the research councils as part of the comprehensive spending review can be spent on research projects.

The CSR also included money for refurbishing decaying laboratories and replacing obsolete equipment. At Pounds 900 million, this represented more than twice the sum recommended by the committee in its response to Dearing.

The cash relieved pressure on universities, Mr Quigley told the committee. Further funding from the research councils was therefore not required, he implied.

The government has launched a review of the ways in which the funding councils and the research councils both support research, headed by the director general of the research councils, Sir John Cadogan.

The review aims to deliver better value for money and improve transparency in the use of research funds. It "is not expected to be a quick operation - it will not report by Christmas - but neither is it a five-year job," Mr Quigley said.

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