EPSRC cuts to blue-skies funding raise concern

March 20, 2008

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has confirmed that funding for curiosity-driven research is to be reduced by as much as 15 per cent.

"Within our fixed budget we ... anticipate a reduction in our investigator-led funding at the 12 to 15 per cent level," the council said this week in a statement to Times Higher Education.

The news is likely to further dismay the engineering and physical sciences researchers who have already expressed concern over their research council's plans to reduce funding for blue-skies research.

The EPSRC last week outlined its plans for the next three years, confirming that there will be a greater emphasis on "transformative", or managed, research.

"More of our funding will be aligned to key themes," John Armitt, chairman of the EPSRC, told a meeting of stakeholders in London last week. There will also be a focus on longer and larger grants, he said.

At the London meeting, David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC, told the audience that there would be an overall drop in research volume of between 3 and 5 per cent when inflation was accounted for. However, the figure of 12 to 15 per cent was not revealed.

Mike Glazer, a professor of physics at the University of Oxford, said the council's increased emphasis on managed science was a move in "totally the wrong direction".

Great advances are serendipitous, Professor Glazer said.

The Royal Society of Chemistry said that it generally supported EPSRC's changes, but with a caveat.

"(The changes) should not be at the expense of significantly reducing the support for outstanding basic research," the society said.

As Times Higher Education reported in February, the EPSRC has already warned the academic community that researchers should expect a "flat cash" allocation for blue-skies research - which is a real-terms reduction when the rate of inflation is taken into account.

- New centres for doctoral training for engineers and physical scientists will also be established under a £250 million plan, the EPSRC has announced.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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