Thursday, 22 July 2010

Interim CEO of ESRC Appointed

According to a press release, Astrid Wissenburg has been appointed as the interim chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council.
Wissenberg takes over from Ian Diamond who is moving on to be VC at Aberdeen. She joined the ESRC in 2003 as Director of Communications and Information. Previous to that, she had a varied academic career in London, Glasgow and her home country of the Netherlands. Wissenberg was assistant-director of Information Services and Systems at King's College London before joining the ESRC.

New FP7 Calls Announced

A new tranche of EC Framework Programme calls have been published, with deadlines in the autumn and winter. They cover all disciplines. More details of the calls are available on the EC’s Cordis website.

If you would like more information on any of these calls, or just want the Commission-speak deciphered, do get in touch.

Friday, 16 July 2010

EPSRC Collaborative Funding

There seems to be something in the air at the moment: following swiftly on from Henley's call to collaborate at Defra, and our announcement that the next Grants Factory workshop will focus on interdisciplinary and collaborative working, the EPSRC has just announced two calls for research at the boundary of their remit with the ESRC.

Promoting Cross-Disciplinary Research aims to fund a small number of cross-disciplinary projects around:
  • Quantitative Aspects of Understanding Behaviours, which could include:
  • new models of social systems
  • understanding behaviours and engineering behavioural change.
  • understanding vs. simulation in decision making
  • Behaviour could include: social relations, social practices, social structures, organisational behaviour, economic behaviour and social institutions
  • Innovation at the Bottom of the Pyramid, which could include:
  • Novel technologies for developing countries or deprived social systems.
  • Disruptive technologies for development
  • Optimisation of cutting edge technology
  • Technical solutions very different from traditional approaches
Up to £6m has been earmarked for this call and the closing date: 12 October 2010 (though you need to register your intention to submit by 10th September 2010).

will be smaller awards, aimed at encouraging researchers to cross disciplinary boundaries. Up to £1 million has been earmarked for this targeted activity and, subject to the quality of the submissions received, it is anticipated that we will fund approximately 10 proposals. Deadline: 16 September 2010.

Hesa Release Performance Indicator Data

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) have published performance indicator data for 2008-09. Fascinating stuff (or is it just me??): look in particular at the Research Outputs spreadsheet: you could spend hours comparing QR, grants per FTE, total grants and contracts, and staff spend. It's all there.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

REF Panel Chairs Announced

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) has appointed Stephen Townley Holgate (Southampton), Ann Dowling (Cambridge), Janet Finch (Keele) and Bruce Brown (Brighton) as the panel chairs for the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework exercise (REF). The panels are likely to cover the life sciences, natural sciences, social sciences and arts and humanities. Within these panels, 30 to 40 sub-panels will do the serious work of assessing submissions.

Grants Factory: Collaborative & Interdisciplinary Research

Prof. Jon Williamson (SECL) and Dr Peter Bennett (DICE)will lead a workshop on collaborative and interdisciplinary research on Weds 15 September between 11.00am and 2.00pm.

Both Peter and Jon have worked extensively on large scale funded collaborative projects and with colleagues from other disciplines including the sciences, social sciences and humanities.

The workshop will cover:
  • The benefits and drawbacks of working collaboratively
  • Generating ideas for interdisciplinary research
  • The logistics of building effective collaborations and managing projects
Places are limited to 20 but the event is open to all academic staff. Please let Jacqueline Aldridge know if you would like to reserve a place on this workshop. Lunch included.

Defra: Collaborate to Accumulate

Oliver Henley, climate change minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has suggested that researchers should collaborate with each other to avoid the worst effects of the forthcoming cuts. Soothsaying a 'long hot summer that's going to be very difficult for a lot of people.'

Work with others, he suggested: 'creative research partnerships represent very good value for money.' It's a timely reminder. It would be all to easy to retrench and stick to what you know in uncertain times. Branching out and striking up new collaborations takes time, energy and commitment, but could pay dividends. Henley's encouragement is timely: we're planning to run a workshop in September as part of the Grants Factory about how to foster collaborative partnerships. More details shortly.

Objections to Impact Rejected by RCUK

According to the Times Higher today, representatives of a group of 52 prominent academics, including 10 Nobel laureates, met with RCUK to urge them mto abando the Impact assessment. 'We do not know of any major scientifc discovery that followed a predictable course. Therefore, RCUK's impact initiative encourages speculation and introduces unscientific criteria into the research selection processes,' the group claim.

However, the group met with a 'dogmatic' response. RCUK took their concerns 'very seriously,' but rejected them. Prof Don Braben, leader of the group, said that 'in my long experience of dealing with officialdom, I have not come across such an overtly dogmatic stance. Alan Thorpe and his colleagues were completely unmoved by scientific arguments, and indeed, refused in effect to discuss them.'

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Impact Hostility Might Be 'Melting Away,' but REF Still Delayed

Two interesting news items this week: first, David Sweeney, Demon Barber of HEFCE, has been quoted as saying that 'consensus is breaking out around the sector' about the worth of including Impact in the REF. Sweeney was speaking at an 'Impact in the Context of the REF' conference and stated that he believed that the Impact pilot exercise had gone 'really well.' This might be overstating the case: I've listened to some involved in it, and the message from them was luke warm at best, but generally thankful that they'd been involved to understand the issues involved.

The second piece of news is that Two Brains Willetts, in his speech on 9 July, said that he 'appreciates why scientists are wary' of impact, going on to announce a delay of a year to the REF. The delay would mean submissions in 2013, with the results in 2014, to inform funding from 2015.

Wariness or consensus? Or consensus around wariness? You decide.

Monday, 12 July 2010

RDInfo to Be Cut?

Rumours are afoot that funding to RDInfo is to be cut. This would be a great shame: it's a really useful database of all the funding available in the broad area of health and social care research. Whilst Research Professional thows its net wider, the RDInfo site is clearer, easier to use, more intuitive, and often with more up to date information.
If you want to add your voice to the chorus currently building in objection to the cuts, send an email of support to Claire Smith at

EPSRC Seek Greater Detail in Letters of Support

EPSRC will in future ask for greater detail from project partners on grants. Letters of Support will become 'Statements of Support', and should address:
  • Why are you a partner on this project?

  • What do you and your organisation hope to get out of this collaboration?

  • How have you and your organisation contributed to the preparation of the proposal and the Pathways to Impact included in the application?

  • What will you and your organisation be contributing towards the project?

    • Include any cash and in-kind contributions. In-kind contributions can include staff time, access to equipment in your organisation, provision of data, software or materials.

More detail available on the EPSRC website.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Wakeham: Cut fEC Indirect Costs by 5%

On 24 June Bill Wakeham, former VC of Southampton, announced the outcomes of a review to implement the recommendations made by the Full Economic Costing (fEC) Review published in November 2009.
Whilst recognising the success of research in the UK, he said that '
in the current economic climate we will see restrictions in public expenditure and higher education in the UK will need to play its part in demonstrating greater efficiency.'
'Greater efficiency' means cutting 5% p.a. off the Indirect Costs rate for university fEC budgets for the next three years. For those with a lower rate - including Kent - this will be 2.5%. This seems to go counter to the original ethos of fEC, which was to ensure the sustainability of research in higher education. If it was decided that the current indirect costs were set at a sustainable level, surely 5% below that is not sustainable?
The press release from RCUK/UUK is available here, and the full report is available here.

Monday, 5 July 2010

AHRC Joins Stable Mates in DisneyWorld South West

I should have mentioned this earlier, but the AHRC has completed its move to Death Star Avenue - sorry, North Star Avenue - to join the other Research Councils in Polaris House. Ah, Swindon, home of roundabouts, the swimming centre after which Oasis were named, and the Great Western Railway.

As if these attractions weren't enough, word is that staff are being offered generous travel allowances for up to three years to sugar the pill of having to commute from Bristol. But surely staff should be paying the AHRC for the privilege of working somewhere this good? After all, it's not many places that can claim to be a home from home for Mickey and co.

So, if you want to contact the AHRC from now on, here's their new contact details:

Polaris House
North Star Avenue
Swindon SN2 1FL
Tel: 01793 41 6000

EC: Joint Programming

At the same conference we heard about the EC's move towards Joint Programming. Joint Programming might be something some of you have heard about before: it's slowly rising to the top of the European funding agenda.

The thinking behind it is that research funding is spread thinly across Europe and, if we want to attract and retain the best researchers globally we need to act more collectively. They gave an example of public funding in EU27 compared with that in the USA: each EU country has some pot of money (with the Germans having the most, at around €170m). However, none come close to the US total of €100bn. But when you add all the EU funding together it comes to €90bn, which is much more respectable.

So you can see the logic: act together, and we're greater the sum of our parts. So how does it work in practice? Well of course, this being Europe, a committee has been formed: the High Level Group for Joint Programming (or GPC for short, from the French “Groupe de haut niveau pour la Programmation Conjointe"). The GPC maps out the current funding coverage for research at the moment and identifies areas of shortage. The first area, which became a Joint Programming Initiative (JPI), was on Alzheimer's - see the link below. After this, the Phase 1 JPIs were confirmed in December 2009 as:
  • Agriculture, food security and climate change
  • A healthy diet for a healthy life (formerly known as "Health, food and prevention of diet-related diseases")
  • Cultural heritage & global change (formerly known as "Cultural heritage, climate change and security")

In May the GPC identified the Phase 2 themes as:

  • Urban Europe
  • Connecting Climate Knowledge for Europe
  • More years, better lives
  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Water challenges for a Chaning World
  • Healthy & productive seas and oceans
How will these actually feed through into funding? Well, being Europe, these things take time and many, many committee meetings: the next steps are for further drafts of the proposal for JPIs in July, followed by a conference in Octover, and a Council meeting in November, so it will be next year at the earliest. But if you work in one of these areas it's worth noting that substantial, cross-European funding is on the horizon, so do some background reading on what they've got planned. Here are some links:

Talking of Marie Curie...

I attended an interesting session on the Marie Curie Fellowships last week at the UKRO Conference. It was interesting to get some insights into how the UK's done with these. Here are some stats, with the overall success rates for all countries first, and then the success rates for the projects that involve the UK second:
  • Initial Training Networks (ITNs): Overall: 7%; UK: 16%
  • Intra-European Fellowships (IEFs): Overall: 24%; UK: 30%
  • European Reintegration Grants (ERGs): Overall: 65% (!); UK: 57%
  • International Reintegration Grants (IRGs): 67% (!!); 78% (!!!)
  • Industry-Academia Partnerships & Pathways (IAPPs): Overall: 16%; UK: 20%
  • International Outgoing Fellowships (IOFs): Overall: 20%; UK: 29%
  • International Research Staff Exchange Scheme (IRSES): Overall: 65%; UK: 66%
  • International Incoming Fellowships (IIFs): Overall: 15%; UK: 18%
  • Co-Funding of Regional, National & International Programmes (COFUND): Overall: 66%; UK: 100% (though that was one application out of one).
One other interesting stat (and apologies for sounding like I'm obsessed with numbers here): for the Intra-European Fellowships, which fund movement between member states within the EU, the UK hosts 37% of all fellows, and yet sends out only 4%. Is this down to the UK being a world class centre for academic research, or just down to our poor language skills? I'll let you decide...

Changes to Marie Curie Fellowships

Changes are afoot on the European Commission's flagship Marie Curie Fellowships, which encourage mobility of researchers within the European Research Area (ERA) - or, in their own words, to retain, repatriate, and recruit. Two of their schemes - the European Reintegration Grants (ERGs) and the International Reintegration Grants (IRGs) - are going to be amalgamated into a single scheme to be called the 'Career Integration Grants' (CIG). The aim will be on the 'repatriate' part of the MC's three Rs, and will encourage researchers to return to the ERA. The restriction that used to apply to ERGs - that only former MC Fellows could apply - will be lifted, and the scheme will look more like the IRGs. The first call is due 20 October 2010, with a deadline of 8 March 2011, so if you know someone who would fit the bill and could benefit from this funding, encourage them to look at the Cordis call page.