Research councils should develop “quantitative metrics” to evaluate how successful they are for accountability purposes, according to the latest three-yearly review of the system.
The review found that some aspects of research council governance require “substantial attention” but that the UK should retain its seven research councils.
One of the areas that required improvement was the performance management frameworks of the councils. Improvements should be agreed with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills as a matter of “priority”.
These should include a “clear picture of success” and metrics that enable evaluation, according to the report published by the BIS on 16 April.
“We are confident that further improvements will flow from this, and that the overall position will be strengthened as a result,” says the Triennial Review of the Research Councils report.
Another area for improvement flagged by the review was the cross-council arrangements for good use of public money. The review found that these were not as good as those in place at the individual council level.
As a result changes should be made to the governance of Research Councils UK executive group to ensure “the most effective use of public funds at the collective level”.
The group should be charged with the task of “delivering collective efficiency savings and transformational change across Research Councils”, the report adds.
Rick Rylance, chair of the Research Councils UK Executive Group, said: “We have already implemented many of the recommendations [of the report] and are working with BIS to implement the remainder as soon as possible.”
Case studies considered in the report include merging the Arts and Humanities and Economic and Social research councils, and abolishing the Science and Technology Facilities Council. But there was little evidence that these changes would improve effectiveness or efficiency, the report says.
“We therefore concluded that the Research Councils should be retained in their current form,” says the report.
More than 100 stakeholders, including representatives from business, universities, charities and the research councils themselves, contributed to the review. One of these was the Institute of Physics.
Frances Saunders, president of the IOP, said: “Continuing to invest in scientific research is key to the future of the UK and its economy, enabling significant contributions to be made to its gross domestic product, improving the quality of life of its people, and allowing it to respond to global challenges and opportunities.”
Dr Saunders added that the institute was “particularly encouraged” that the research councils will be reviewing opportunities for interdisciplinary research. “Some of the most interesting new opportunities can arise in these boundary areas,” she added.