EPSRC won't turn off funding taps but gush may become a trickle for some

Applicants for grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will have to make the case for the national importance as well as the international excellence of their research, the organisation has said.

July 21, 2011

The EPSRC has also announced its initial decisions on whether it wants to grow, maintain or shrink the research areas it funds.

The moves follow the announcement in the council's delivery plan that it would respond to the reduced budget it was dealt in last year's Comprehensive Spending Review by more actively "shaping" the UK's research capability.

David Delpy, the council's chief executive, said it had gathered as much information as possible about existing levels of provision and funding, both by the EPSRC and by other research councils, in the 111 fields into which it has divided up its research portfolio.

He said decisions on which fields to grow and which to shrink had been taken on the basis of the fields' national importance, as well as their existing quality and capacity.

"Importance" is to be measured according to factors such as the impact on the economy, contribution to social challenges and relevance to other research disciplines.

Professor Delpy said the research council had consulted and sought evidence from both academic and industrial bodies.

But he said that only the EPSRC had the necessary breadth of knowledge of the whole research base to decide on the appropriate relative level of investment in each field.

Of the 29 fields judged so far, seven will be reduced and six expanded. Another batch of decisions will be announced in November, with the rest made apparent by the end of the financial year.

Professor Delpy said that from this autumn, grant applicants would have to make the case for the national importance of their research. The "pathways to impact" section of applications will remain.

Applicants will also be required to explain how their research proposal coheres with the EPSRC's strategic intentions, detailed information about which has been posted on its website.

Professor Delpy said it would be "sensible" for applicants to highlight any links to fields the council wanted to grow.

He emphasised that the EPSRC would not "turn off" funding in areas slated for reduction, but said that applicants should expect even fiercer competition.

Peer-review panels will be asked to give equal weighting to importance and excellence in their consideration of applications. But Professor Delpy argued that in practice they had always done so.

He said that their only genuinely new task would be to comment on the EPSRC's views about the strategic fit of applications to its portfolio - although he admitted that panellists would need a "significant amount" of training for this role.

The council will also announce major changes to its provision of fellowships on 22 July.

These include the abolition of application deadlines and the merging of all existing programmes into a single scheme. An EPSRC spokesman said the new arrangements would be "faster, more streamlined and more flexible".

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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