Nurse Review of the Research Councils: Call for Evidence

As part of the science and innovation strategy launched in November, the Government announced that Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Director of the new Francis Crick Institute, would lead a review of the Research Councils. The Nurse Review will examine and provide recommendations on how the Councils can “evolve to support research in the most effective ways, reflecting the requirements to secure excellence, promote collaboration and allow agility, and in ways that best contribute to sustainable growth”. The review will report its findings by late summer, after the general election.

The review comes just a year after the findings of the Triennial Review of the Research Councils were published. The review concluded that the current form and function of the Research Councils – as seven separate non-departmental public bodes – was fit for purpose, and that they were largely effective in meeting their objectives and the terms of their Royal Charter. While the review made a number of recommendations for how the Research Councils could work more effectively, for example in responding to and challenging the Government’s research agenda and improving partnership working, it did not advocate any significant change to their operational model.

Last month an advisory group comprising of a number of prominent figures from the world of research and higher education was appointed to assist with the review, and subsequently the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has launched a call for evidence, inviting the research community to submit their views on how the Research Councils should evolve. The call will also take into account evidence previously submitted as part of the Triennial Review process.

The call asks for evidence in response to four major themes: strategic decision-making, collaborations and partnerships, balance of the funding portfolio and effective ways of working. The themes are shaped by the Terms of Reference of the review, which outlines eleven key questions that it hopes to answer, ranging from the balance between investigator-led and strategically-focused funding to the division of subject areas between councils and support for interdisciplinary research.

What do you think? Add your views to the BES submission

The BES will be submitting a response to the call for evidence to ensure that the views of our members are taken into account as part of the Nurse Review. The starting point for our response will be our previous submission to the Triennial Review. In this submission, we supported maintaining the Haldane principle, whereby decisions on research spending are made predominantly by researchers rather than politicians, but acknowledged that this should be balanced with some research more closely aligned with current governmental priorities. We also highlighted the need for the Research Councils to work better together to foster interdisciplinary research, in particular to avoid important topics of interest to BES members such as pollinators, agriculture and conservation falling in the gaps between councils. We also raised the importance of embedding knowledge exchange programmes that enable businesses, government and the third sector to better access and make use of research.

We welcome views from BES members to inform our response to the call for evidence. The full consultation document can be found here, and views on any or all of the questions posed would be welcome. We are particularly interested to hear your responses to the following questions included in the call:

  • Within each Research Council is the balance of funding well-judged between support of individual investigators, support of teams and support of equipment and infrastructure?
  • How should the work of the Research Councils integrate most effectively with the work of agencies funding innovation, such as Innovate UK, and with the work funded by Departmental research and development budgets?
  • Are the divisions of scientific subject areas between the Research Councils appropriate?

If you would like to add your input to the consultation, or comment on a draft response, please contact the BES Policy Team before Monday 30th March 2015.