MRC pays to support youth

January 16, 2004

The Medical Research Council has made the first of a raft of potential changes to its much-criticised funding system.

It has announced a commitment of almost £5 million for individual project grants intended to help young scientists onto the research ladder.

Colin Blakemore, the MRC's new chief executive, told The THES that this was a response to almost unanimous opposition to the cooperative grants scheme, which has been accused of creating "marriages of convenience" among researchers. He said that young researchers had been hit particularly hard by the virtual loss of shorter term project grants.

Professor Blakemore said: "This isn't a huge sum of money. It is more a signal to the community of the kind of changes that I hope will happen at the MRC."

In theory, the council's career establishment awards are already helping young scientists. But Professor Blakemore said that few of these were granted because of the pressure on MRC funds.

He said: "This initiative is intended to send out the message that the MRC is particularly concerned to encourage the work of young investigators."

Tony Coll, a junior researcher who won an MRC clinical training fellowship at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research last year, said many young researchers were struggling to find support for their work.

Dr Coll, who is conducting research on obesity, said: "People often have to make do with a drip-feed of money, reapplying every six months. When considering changing from a clinical job to doing research, the financial difficulties put people off."

Nigel Scrutton, professor of biochemistry at the University of Leicester, who has complained about cooperative grants to the Commons' science and technology committee, said: "That's the best news I've had all day. The cooperative scheme has been an absolute disaster for clinical research."

Professor Blakemore said both the MRC and the Department of Health were working on a "significant increase" for clinical research.

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