Leverage from public funding of science and research

By Dr Sarah Main

A year ago, in the middle of the London 2012 Olympic Games, I walked in to the peculiarly empty offices of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Having taken its commitment to halve the number of civil servants working from central London seriously, most BIS staff were operating from off-site locations. I soon came to realise that securing a desk in the heart of the Knowledge and Innovation Group at BIS was not normally so easy.

For nine months, I was part of a team that was gathering evidence on the impact of public investment in science and research. The scope of the team’s work included efficiencies in higher education, the dual funding model, the impact of science and research on local economies and, the strand on which I worked, leverage. The report, Leverage from public funding of science and research, published on the RCUK website, examines how public funding of science and research leverages additional investment from industry, charity and overseas.

We worked from within the Innovation Directorate with close links to the Research Funding Unit and had access to input and expertise from across the science and research functions of BIS and Whitehall: the Government Office for Science, Office of Life Sciences, Higher and Further Education, UKTI, International Knowledge and Innovation and many more.

At times, the work could feel rather abstract: collating and commissioning data to answer questions that had not yet been asked for a ‘review’ that had not yet been called.

But I believe the approach was entirely vindicated by the availability of well-researched and compiled evidence with which to support key messages at short notice.

It will not surprise you to learn that when Treasury or Ministers ask challenging questions, the response time is measured in days or hours, not weeks. And certainly not in the months it takes to thoroughly research some of these difficult questions. When the pressure is on, delivering strong messages backed up by substantive evidence has real impact.

For the conclusions on leverage, I refer you to the report. For those short of time, I suggest the contents page for the scope of the report (page 2) and the four page executive summary. I also commend to you my colleague Sarah Jackson’s report on efficiencies in higher education.

I will leave you with my top tips for dealing with enquiries from officials in Knowledge and Innovation Group at BIS.

  • BIS is complex. The civil service even more so. Ask questions until you understand the structure and reporting lines in to which you are feeding information
  • Forgive them the time pressure. It is applied to them from many directions and usually from high above.
  • Keep it short and to the point. Officials will appreciate it if they don’t have to spend time summarising responses.
  • Understand the context of the question. An enquiry you receive often forms only one element of a multi-stranded response. If your response fits the broader context it is more likely to be useful and be used. Pitching at the national, economic and cross-discipline level is probably not far off.
  • Perhaps the best kept secret: these officials are our champions in government. Be friendly – they are on our side!

Dr Sarah Main is now Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. She was previously seconded to BIS from the Medical Research Council (MRC). 

Supporting research data management costs through grant funding

By Ben Ryan, Senior Manager, Research Outcomes, EPSRC

 Making research data available to our stakeholders is very important to the Research Councils and, to ensure we have a consistent approach, there is a set of common principles, published by RCUK, which provides an overarching framework for individual Research Councils’ policies on data policy.

One of these principles states that it is “appropriate to use public funds to support the management and sharing of publicly-funded research data”. Research organisations are responsible for making sure there are enough resources allocated to research data management, for example from quality-related research funding or from research grants.

To help clarify how research grant funding can be used to help cover the costs involved, the JISC Research Data Managers Forum, with the Digital Curation Centre, organised a meeting in April this year, with representatives from the Research Councils and the Wellcome Trust. A number of questions were raised by researchers and research administrators and written responses to those questions are now available here.

In practice, this reiterates existing guidance on how research grants may be spent – all costs associated with research data management are eligible expenditure of research grant funds, but there are couple of ‘lines in the sand’ that are emphasised, and are worth repeating here:

  • no expenditure can be ‘double funded’ (a service that is centrally supported by the indirect costs paid on all research grants cannot then also be included as a direct cost on a grant)
  • all directly incurred expenditure of a grant must incurred before the end date of the grant. 

RCUK hopes the written responses will dispel any misconceptions and provide reassurance that research grant funding from the Research Councils may be used to help with any aspect of the cost of research data management.

The early bird catches the worm: engage now with EU Structural and Investment funding

By Professor Dave Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC and RCUK Impact Champion

 From 2014, EU Structural and Investment (S&I) funding will, for the first time, be available for investment in research and innovation across the whole of the UK.

Everyone is familiar with the ‘EC Structural Funds’ but many people may not be aware that from 2014, EU Structural and Investment (S&I) funding, which is what they are known by in the UK, will for the first time be available for investment in research and innovation across the whole of the UK. With a total pot of €9.6 billion available for the period 2014-2020, as RCUK we’re keen to encourage universities and research institutes to engage proactively with this funding stream.

For this reason RCUK, in partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Universities UK, has written to all UK higher education institutions to highlight the opportunity to make use of existing higher education, research and innovation investments to leverage EU S&I funding.

While RCUK has a pan-UK remit, it’s important to note that the EU S&I funding for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be separately managed. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, institutions will engage through the respective local managing authorities (Scottish Enterprise, Welsh Assembly Government and DEL/DETI). In England the situation is far more complicated as institutions will have to engage with their Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to tap into this funding.

The funding will be focused on four national priorities:

  • innovation R&D
  • low carbon
  • SMEs
  • skills and economic inclusion. 

While there are clearly many opportunities to access this valuable source of funding within the ‘innovation R&D’ priority, those interested would do well to consider the remaining three, which may well bear fruit under closer inspection.

Currently, the three devolved nations are each producing Smart Specialisation Strategies which will set out their high-level plans for spending their allocation of EU S&I funding. In England, LEPs will be responsible for designing and delivering local strategies on how best to use this funding, meaning that early engagement with your local LEP now is vital in shaping how the funding will be directed. Each LEP has received a notional allocation from the funds, which must be spent in line with the four national priorities. More information on the background of these funds and how they will be administered for 2014-20 in England can be found in the preliminary guidance that has been issued to LEPs. Final guidance is currently expected shortly.

Although at an operational level, the responsibility to engage with LEPs lies with universities and institutes, RCUK is working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Technology Strategy Board, HEFCE and Universities UK on a high-level strategic approach to understand how to add value to UK investments by the appropriate use of EU S&I funding. We want to minimise the administrative burden to participants and ensure that where funds are used, the anticipated outcomes are aligned with national funders’ strategies, and do not impose unrealisable reporting requirements.

We know that universities, higher education colleges and public sector research establishments are all playing an important role in the Government’s economic growth agenda, but we want to explore how we might do even more. This is why we have asked institutions to share any feedback on the new arrangements. We would be interested specifically in hearing about any barriers you perceive that prevent the UK gaining full benefit from the availability of EU S&I funding. We’d like to know about how the new arrangements in England working with LEPs can be made to work effectively, but also broader UK comment on research and innovation alignment. Any ideas you may have concerning how best to address those barriers would also be welcome.

Feedback on the new arrangements for EU S&I funding can be sent to RCUK, UUK and HEFCE via EUStructuralFunds@rcuk.ac.uk by 14 July 2013.

With an ambition for 40 per cent of the funding to be spent on R&D, this is an exciting opportunity to access this newly expanded stream of funding. And in this instance, it looks like it really will be the early bird that catches the worm.

Sustainable cities and the challenges of urbanisation in India

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director, RCUK India

India has been described as a ‘reluctant urbaniser’. In 2001, the percentage of the population living in urban areas was estimated to be 28 per cent. Ten years later, it is little more than 30 per cent. This is despite the explosive growth of megacities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Nonetheless, there is an expectation that in the next decade or so, the rate of urbanisation will increase significantly. This is, in part, because increased urbanisation is a necessary condition for economic growth. Population trends for India show that there will be a substantial increase in working age population over the next 20 years and sustained economic growth will be necessary to generate new jobs in the manufacturing and services sectors.

Construction work in the outskirts of Delhi

Construction work in the outskirts of Delhi

McKinsey’s recent report, India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth, presented some startling indicators of the likely changes that will happen over the next 15-20 years:

  • 590 million will live in cities, nearly twice the population of the United States today
  • 270 million people net increase in working-age population
  • 70 per cent of net new employment will be generated in cities
  • 68 cities will have population of 1 million plus, up from 42 cities today
  • $1.2 trillion capital investment is necessary to meet projected demand in India’s cities
  • 700-900 million square meters of commercial and residential space needs to be built – or a new Chicago every year
  • 2.5 billion square meters of roads will have to be paved, 20 times the capacity added in the past decade
  • 7,400 kilometers of metros and subways will need to be constructed – 20 time the capacity.

These figures may appear daunting on first pass. However, we have the recent profound transformational change witnessed in China to hand which has experienced a very similar period of explosive growth of cities and development on a similar scale. Although the challenge is great, provided that it is addressed creatively it can be met.

India’s Planning Commission has observed that the pace of urbanization poses an unprecedented managerial and policy challenge. It noted that demand for key services such as water, transport, sewage treatment; low income housing will increase five to sevenfold in cities of every size and shape.

The unprecedented migration of people across India is resulting in its major cities becoming patchwork quilts of different communities living side by side (see UNICEF’s Overview of Internal Migration in India). According to India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, almost a third of India’s population is made up of internal migrants. The integration of new populations, especially in urban areas, is a major issue, particularly given the lack of low income housing provision and basic services.

There are profound choices to be made in India over the next two decades. The sustainability of cities and/or sustainable urbanisation – whatever the definitions used – is a crucial consideration. Both real time knowledge of the urbanisation transition and knowledge how to manage this transition are going to be vitally important. The unprecedented demographic change also needs to be understood in terms of its cultural and historical impact. These are all areas where the academic community working in partnership with business and civil society groups can play an important part in defining the challenges and crafting the solutions appropriate for India.

India’s urban population will double by 2030

India’s urban population will double by 2030

Over recent years, the UK has become a thought-leader on the sustainability of cities and understanding urbanization transitions around the world. Much of this thought leadership has derived from the research commissioned by the individual Councils which have funded programmes on: ICT and internet of things, low carbon cities, water and energy resource management, urban health, demographic transitions and urban poverty alleviation. Later this year, RCUK India will be organising a roundtable which will bring together leading academics, policy makers and thought leaders from the UK and India to discuss and identify key R&D issues focusing on the areas of:

  • Sustainability and urbanisation
  • Smart cities and the urban ecosystem in India
  • Integrating provision of water, waste and energy services
  • Urbanization and delivery of effective health services
  • Changing idea of the city in Indian culture
  • Achieving inclusivity in the face of rapid demographic change