'Pointless' new code worries scholars

May 16, 2003

The academic community reacted with anxiety this week as funders announced their controversial code of practice for research, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The code calls for formal external accreditation for laboratories in the longer term. Full compliance with the code will be a proviso of research funding from June next year.

It is being enforced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Food Standards Agency, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council, and the agriculture and rural affairs departments within the devolved administrations.

Peter Cotgreave, director of Save British Science, said: "It's an insult, it's pointless and it will just be another hurdle for people to jump if they want to break into the world of research."

The code is concerned with the quality of process rather than the quality of science, and is intended to ensure results are appropriate, rigorous and repeatable.

A number of universities see this as another layer of bureaucracy. Many are worried about the potential expense, particularly that of formal external accreditation.

Defra and the FSA conceded that costs would have to be covered by research overheads. But this might not resolve the issue.

Jon Saunders, dean of the faculty of science at the University of Liverpool, said: "Research overheads don't cover the costs of research, that's the problem. So any extra cost will need to be met by the funding bodies, which means unless extra money is available there will have to be cuts to research."

The BBSRC and Nerc are expecting only their own institutes to adhere to the code. But discussions have begun among all the research councils about how to monitor quality assurance in universities.

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