Grant rulings 'are skewed' claim

July 11, 2003

Academics fear the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's peer-review system is skewing grant applications, it emerged this week.

The Commons science and technology select committee listed complaints about the council's grants administration system in a scrutiny session with the council on Monday.

Referees for grant applications are largely drawn from a peer-review college, nominated by the research community. But there is growing concern that this is not working.

Philip Steadman of University College London said in evidence to the committee that under the new system he received requests to referee proposals that fell outside his expertise.

Other academics were concern-ed that a single negative report from one referee might be critical to the success of an application.

The EPSRC strongly contested the complaints. It added that applicants had the chance to comment on decisions made by the peer-review college.

The committee said that government plans to increase research selectivity would lead to erosion of the science base across universities. But John O'Reilly, chief executive of the EPSRC, said research concentration already happened naturally. Almost 50 per cent of council funding went to about 12 per cent of researchers who applied for funding, he said.

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