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Science and Innovation strategy: proceed with care

Posted by on December 19, 2014

By Dr Laura Bellingan FSB, Director of Science Policy at the Society of Biology

Dr Laura Bellingan FRB

Dr Laura Bellingan FSB

Research in the UK attracts public and private investment because it is seen, and a high proportion of it can be measured, as excellent. This is a judgement that takes time to develop and is acceptable as robust because it is applied over a reasonable length of time – in the case of the Research Excellence Framework, five years. Building a research base, team and reputation clearly takes time and resources – not surprisingly we and others are calling for strong, assured and long-term investment in science research – indeed stronger, more assured and longer-term!

The Government’s Science and Innovation strategy published on December 17th sets out that it is “underpinned by 5 key principles for all scientific research and development in the future:

  • excellence
  • agility
  • collaboration
  • place
  • openness

From these principles the strategy focuses on the Government’s priority areas, how to nurture scientific and innovative talent, where it will invest in their infrastructure, how it will support research and catalyse innovation, and in which international projects and priorities it will invest.”

Greg Clark MP

Greg Clark MP, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities

It also points out that there is not one Haldane Principle but that six were originally set out:
“1) that research and evidence was important to the development of government policy;
2) that each government department should provide funds to answer specific policy questions;
3) that there should be a department of government charged with funding general research questions;
4) that the choice of how and by whom that research should be conducted should be left to the decision of experts;
5) that the questions and topics to be tackled should be considered as a result of close collaboration between the administrative and the general departments;
6) that there should be a department that supports research applied to trade and industry.

The fourth of these points is the one that has been designated the “Haldane Principle”, but all six are as pertinent now as they were in 1918; these are the six Haldane Principles.”
I expect to hear more of these, especially in relation to the key principles of ‘agility’ and ‘place.’

The key actions in the S&I Strategy are a parallel series of high speed reviews (in some cases re-evaluations of recently reviewed territory and no doubt the review processes themselves), set out as the next steps:

“We will maintain stability and commitment to the core principles as advocated by stakeholders – this includes the dual support system

  • At the same time we will find further efficiencies – ministers have commissioned UUK to carry out a further review of university efficiencies, to be chaired by Professor Sir Ian Diamond. This will look at areas such as asset sharing, estates and the higher education workforce. The report will be delivered in February 2015
  • We have asked Sir Paul Nurse to lead a review with the Research Councils in order to build on their firm foundations. This will report to the Chancellor, the Business Secretary and the Minister for Science. It will look at how Councils can evolve to support research in the most effective ways by drawing on a range of evidence, including international comparisons and the views of the scientific and business communities, and will report by summer 2015
  • We will continue to push forward on implementation of open access to research publications and the underlying data. HEFCE will be considering how to reward open data as part of future REF assessments subject to the evaluation of the REF 2014
  • We have asked HEFCE to develop a robust, evidence based framework to assess HEIs’ performance in knowledge exchange
  • Research Councils, Innovate UK and Higher Education Funding Bodies will draw on the evidence collected from their activities, case studies from the REF and similar exercises to make a proposal, by summer 2015, on the development of a whole system approach to research impact.”

Selecting further university efficiencies by February, reassessing the research funding landscape by summer, and crystallising a whole-system approach to research impact by summer will catalyse a potentially fundamental reshuffling of the deck that will influence all areas of academic life and practice; all these reviews must carefully engage with the relevant communities and their essential experience.

Read the response to the strategy from Dr Mark Downs FSB,  chief executive of the Society of Biology.

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