Criticisms mount over new UK research body

Academy of Social Sciences joins former Royal Society president in raising questions about UK Research and Innovation

June 30, 2016
Sir Paul Nurse
Sir Paul Nurse is the first director and chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute

There are mounting worries about the future shape of the organisation that will oversee research funding in the UK, set to be created following a report by the former Royal Society president Sir Paul Nurse last year.

The Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS) is the latest to voice its worries in a report released this week about the creation of UK Research and Innovation, which will incorporate the research councils, absorb Innovate UK, distribute block-grant research funding and administer the research excellence framework.

Sir Paul insisted at the time of his report that the plans would not amount to a merger of the councils, and argued that the changes are a way to get them to work better together.

But the Higher Education and Research Bill, released last month, made clear that existing research councils will lose their legal status, and AcSS fears that this will mean they lose autonomy and weaken communication with academics over future research planning.

The academy also fears that the bill gives the government the power to do away with research councils through a statutory instrument – effectively a rubber stamp – rather than having to debate any changes in Parliament.

It is also concerned that key passages of the legislation fail to mention social sciences or the arts.

The AcSS report follows a critical appraisal of the bill earlier this month by Sir Martin Rees, Sir Paul’s predecessor as president of the Royal Society.

Writing in The Guardian, he said the plans should be shelved as they are “needlessly drastic”.

“Our research system is working well and needs no more than a little fine-tuning,” he wrote.

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