A funding deal for eight interdisciplinary research centres allied to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is close to being finalised following a meeting between centre directors and EPSRC officials last week.
An agreement is likely to mean that after the ten-year lifespan originally envisaged for the IRCs, which runs out in 1998, the centres would receive only "core funding" from the EPSRC for essential research activities.
A sticking point between the IRCs and the EPSRC is the level of future support. The EPSRC would like to see the level set at 10 to 20 per cent of an IRC's total budget. Current support for an IRC from the EPSRC averages around 50 per cent of total budget with a maximum of 65 per cent.
One or two IRCs will probably be wound up or reorientated because of a lack of industrial interest. The superconductivity IRC at Cambridge University is widely thought to be particularly vulnerable in any future shake out.
Bruce Joyce, director of the semiconductors IRC at Imperial College, said that infrastructure support from EPSRC is essential for the centres to operate effectively.
He said: "Given the investment of public money in IRCs over the ten-year lifespan - provided that the subject is still important and the quality of work is internationally respected - it would be foolish to let IRCs disappear completely. Without some level of core funding this will happen. Core funding of 20 to 25 per cent of budget sounds about right although different centres may require different levels of support."