The Nurse review of the UK’s research councils recommends bringing them closer together under a new and stronger body, Research UK, whose head would be in charge of all seven councils.
On the dual support system of funding research through competitive grants and via quality-related funding of universities, the review says that “there is an argument for incorporating [the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s] research functions including the REF within Research UK, although its functions and budgets should be kept distinct from those of the Research Councils”.
But it adds that the “dual support system should be preserved”.
Although the report says a merger would be “inappropriate”, it also says that the Research UK chief executive would be accounting officer for all the research councils.
The review, led by Sir Paul Nurse and published today, comes ahead of the government’s spending review on 25 November.
A merger between the seven research councils had been thought to be one option that might be considered by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as it seeks to make savings by reducing the number of bodies it funds.
Sir Paul said: “My recommendations seek to ensure that the different parts of the UK research system are working effectively together to support an endeavour with impact that is greater than the sum of its parts.
“To achieve this, the research councils must remain distinct in terms of their specialities but should be arranged under a single organisation which can strengthen their collective strategy and voice.”
The review report says: “Merger into a single council is not appropriate as it would be disruptive, distance research funding from the research community, reduce agility, and critically make it difficult to recruit the highest quality leadership at the individual discipline level.”
A press release summary of the report issued by BIS said the review recommends “evolving Research Councils UK into Research UK as a formal organisation for managing cross-Council research funds, formulating a strong collective strategic position, and ensuring an efficient approach to administrative functions”.
It would be “at arm’s length from Government as a Non-Departmental Public Body”, the press release adds.
The review document says the Research UK chief executive “would become the Accounting Officer collectively for all the Research Councils, reporting to a single oversight Board, and should be a highly distinguished scientist, capable of delivering a managerially efficient organisation and of interacting effectively with Government”.