Ministers first, academics second

October 22, 2009

Academics have reacted angrily to an internal research council document that says that the Government - not the academic community or the public - is the "primary audience" for its campaign to improve the economic and social impact of the research it funds.

The document, leaked to Times Higher Education, outlines the contents of a presentation made to senior staff at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It says: "We need to show (the Government) the importance and relevance of the research we fund to current and future global challenges in order to secure future funding."

Academics are named a "secondary audience" with the public given third priority.

The document says that the campaign "is deliberately blatant in its attempt to address the immediate demand" from the Government to demonstrate impact.

Researchers said the leaked document showed that the research councils were playing politics instead of protecting the interests of scholarship.

Don Braben, honorary professor of earth sciences at University College London, said the research council "should be resisting the pressure of politics, but they're succumbing to political pressure ... their primary duty is to nurture scientific enterprise and to maintain the health of scientific endeavour in the UK. In my view, they are failing in this duty."

James Ladyman, professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol, said: "We have all suspected that the impact agenda is being driven by the Government and that the Haldane principle (that decisions about what to spend research funds on should be made by researchers, not politicians) has effectively been set aside."

A spokeswoman for the EPSRC said: "With clear pressure on public finances and many competing causes, it has never been more important for the research community and research councils to work together to make the best case to gain public support and secure continued government funding.

"By showcasing both the excellence and the relevance of the research we support, we are able to argue convincingly for the future funding of science."

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