Brussels, 07 Jan 2005
UK Research Councils will pay a higher proportion of the full economic costs (FEC) of university research grants applied for from September 2005, the UK Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Sainsbury and Higher Education Minister, Kim Howells, have announced.
The Research Councils will pay 80 per cent of the full economic cost of projects and plan to fund 100 per cent by the end of the decade in a bid to guarantee that scientific research is properly funded and that the UK's research base is put on a secure and sustainable footing. An extra 120 million GBP (170 million euro) per year to support the move will be distributed to the research councils from July 2005, rising to 200 million GBP (285 million euro) from 2007/08.
'The Government is committed to improving and maintaining research excellence in UK universities,' said Lord Sainsbury. 'The move towards Research Councils paying the full economic costs of projects is a huge step forward in the drive towards proper and sustained funding of the UK research base, and comes coupled with an increase in the block grant from Funding Councils. This represents a major boost for university research,' he added.
'This increase in the level of contribution from the Research Councils is another major step to ensure that our universities have a secure base from which to plan and develop high quality research in a sustainable way,' stated Dr Howells. 'The movement towards Research Councils paying full economic costs [...] will allow institutions greater flexibility in the use of their quality related funding to address the needs of their research strategies properly.'
At present, only around 55 per cent of the FEC of research projects are funded by the UK research councils. This has meant that universities have found it difficult to recover the full costs of work from charities and the private sector, leading them to divert money from teaching students and maintaining laboratories and equipment.
The FEC of a research project includes direct and indirect costs: space/estates charges; depreciation; an adequate recurring investment in infrastructure; the university's central library; university administration and so on.
The increased funding announcement was warmly welcomed by university heads and scientists. 'Within the constraints of the available money, the Office of Science and Technology has done just about as good a job as it could have in this first step of creating a more sustainable research base,' said Peter Cotgreave, Director of Save British Science.
Dr Cotgreave also welcomed the announcement that extra money would be made available without strings attached.
'The thing that we are most positive about is that the letter from Lord Sainsbury and Dr Howells seems to set a tone in which staff in universities are to be trusted rather more than they have in the past,' he said. 'This can only be good for science and engineering, if it translates into less micromanagement from the centre. Moreover, the ministers have made it clear that they realise that researchers are delivering outstanding results, and it is the Government's own handling of the finances that has been one of the biggest threats to British science in recent years. This is one of the first steps in putting that right,' Dr Cotgreave added.
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