Impact and breakthroughs: EPSRC sets new strategy

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council aims to accelerate both scientific breakthroughs and social and economic impact.

August 13, 2014

The pledge is contained in the research council’s draft new strategic plan for 2016 to 2020, which was published for consultation on its website on 12 August.

The document, which updates the EPSRC’s current strategic plan in light of recent developments such as the government’s industrial strategy, commits the funder to increasing the number of leading scientists and engineers working in the UK and encouraging them to be “more adventurous than ever before”.

It hopes to see an increase in the UK’s international research standing “as judged by the incidence of highly cited papers”.

The EPSRC also aims to boost the social and economic impact of the research it funds. Some critics of the impact agenda have previously argued that pursuing impact is incompatible with promoting the best science. The strategic plan acknowledges that “by supporting the highest quality research and people, impact will follow”, and that impact “is often not delivered by researchers or research councils, but by business, policymakers, charities, healthcare professionals and others”.

But it says the EPSRC has a role “to help make it more likely that impact will arise, that it will arise more quickly and that it will bring benefit to the UK”. To this end, it will seek more industry co-funding and “think early on about how research and postgraduate training may develop, who may be interested in the possible outputs and how the outputs might be used…We will encourage all of our researchers to do the same in their proposals”.

The research council also pledges to continue its controversial shaping capability policy – now known as balancing capability – which sees investment targeted towards areas of national importance as well as existing excellence.

Noting that the EPSRC funds more than £1.7 billion of research that is “directly relevant to the priority sectors identified in the industrial strategy”, it says: “We will continue to support a balanced portfolio that reflects the developing strategic needs of the nation. This will include supporting its capability to tackle future challenges and capitalise on new opportunities.”

The funder also expresses confidence that its reviewers “will be well versed in the significance of proposals, in their field and in the broader national context”.

Responses to the draft document must be received by midnight on 7 September.

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Reader's comments (1)

The EPSRC 'will seek more industry co-funding and 'think early on about how research and postgraduate training may develop'. This perhaps needs to be a major focus, and should be set out in greater detail with the strategy fully articulated and plans for delivery published.

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