How will your research help Britain...in 2061?

Applicants for Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grants will have to identify the national importance of their research for up to 50 years in the future.

November 3, 2011

The announcement is included in details of how the research council's peer review processes will change in line with its controversial "shaping capability" programme.

This will see the EPSRC decide whether to increase or shrink research areas on the basis of their national importance as well as their existing excellence and capacity.

The research council has confirmed that, from the middle of this month, grant applicants will be required to explain the national importance of their proposed research over a "10-50 year time-frame".

"This should be articulated in relation to other research in the area, explaining how it aligns to national UK priorities, responds to user/stakeholder pull or underpins priority areas for other research councils," the EPSRC says on its website.

Reviewers and panel members will also be asked to consider national importance as well as research quality, and the research council will be holding a series of regional workshops to explain the changes.

Last week the EPSRC confirmed that it would press ahead with the implementation of shaping capability despite calls to mothball it amid numerous objections to the first round of decisions, made in July, and complaints about a perceived lack of consultation.

The EPSRC's council agreed at a meeting last month that it must consult more closely with learned societies over further decisions.

This means that the date for the second tranche of decisions, originally due in November, will probably slip, but the April deadline for the third tranche remains.

Neville Reed, managing director of science, education and industry at the Royal Society of Chemistry, welcomed the move: "If the EPSRC continues in this vein, it will eventually take all the community with it in the direction it wants to go."

But Anthony Barrett, professor of organic chemistry at Imperial College London, said the concession amounted to a tacit admission that the first decisions had been flawed. He called on the research council to rescind them and to consult with practising scientists as well as learned societies.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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