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.

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology visit India

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.

I joined Professor Mark Bailey, the Director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and Professor Alan Jenkins, the Deputy Director, on their recent travels around India.  They had taken five days out of their very busy schedules to come to India. CEH is a NERC Centre of Excellence and also a world leading centre for integrated research into ecosystems and biodiversity.  It works in partnership with the research community, policy makers, industry and society to deliver solutions to the most complex environmental challenges facing the world.   The reason why both Mark and Alan came was to raise the profile of CEH in India and to seek to establish institutional partnerships with high quality research institutes in India in the fields of hydrology and water resource management, ecosystem services and landscape ecology.  The RCUK India team was, therefore, very pleased to organise a pretty intensive itinerary for the two Professors which took in policy makers and researchers in Delhi, Bangalore and Roorkee.  It seemed like planes, trains and automobiles all over again.

There was considerable interest shown at the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) at Roorkee in working in partnership with CEH.  Indeed, it was more of a case of re-establishing a relationship that had been very strong at one time as the Institute had been modelled (when it was founded in 1978) on the UK’s national hydrology centre before it amalgamated with the ecologists to form CEH in the recent past.  Indeed Dr S K Jain from NIH explained some of the fascinating history of the Roorkee site (which is also home to an Indian Institute of Technology or IIT) and the role that the British played in channelling the Ganges through huge engineering projects to provide water for irrigation for the whole region.  An engineering college had been established in the 1850s to provide trained personnel to help build the water management and irrigation systems.

Water resources, or more precisely, water scarcity, remains a big problem in India and has rightly been identified as one of the two absolutely critical issues that have to be addressed in the Twelfth Five Year Plan (the other being energy).  CEH has world leading expertise in the understanding of river flows, the basic science for understanding floods and droughts and the likely impact of climate change on fresh water systems.  As a result, there was much discussion of potential areas of collaboration between the two institutes.  It was agreed that further meetings and exchanges would be very useful to prioritise the areas of potential collaboration.

In Bangalore, there was a series of meetings with researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and at the Ashoka Trust for Research into Ecology and the Environment (ATREE).   An issue identified through discussion was the possibility of developing partnership between the UK and India on an integrated soils research programme to better understand the changes that are happening through intensification of agriculture, deforestation, impact of water scarcity,  increasing salinity of groundwater and, of course, climate change on soil structure, microbiology and quality.   A much better understanding of soils and what is happening to soil quality is needed if India is to deliver on its food security goals in the future as its population and, therefore, demand for foodstuffs increases.   In a discussion with Professor Vinod Gaur, it was proposed that a fruitful next step would be to organise a joint India-UK workshop on the topic with a view to establishing a Joint Indo-UK Centre.   As well as soils, another area of potential collaboration was in developing the hydrological modelling aspect in a system called JULES which is used by the UK’s Met Office in its Earth System climate models to take into account land surface and atmosphere interactions.  India currently uses the Met Office climate models as well as US climate models for its weather and climate predictions.

Both Mark and Alan were keen to stress that theirs was very much an exploratory visit to see whether there was an opportunity for CEH working more closely in partnership with Indian researchers and institutes.  There is no doubt now that this will be the first of many exchanges between CEH scientists and their Indian counterparts.

Professor Alan Jenkins (left), Dr S K Jain (centre) and Professor Mark Bailey (right) at the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee.

Professor Alan Jenkins (left), Dr S K Jain (centre) and Professor Mark Bailey (right) at the
National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee.

 

Doctoral graduates from 2003-2006 – please complete our survey!

There are developments to report on the Doctoral Impact and Career Tracking study. The questionnaire has been developed and has been piloted with the aid of some very helpful doctoral graduates. We asked about their current employment and whether they think that doing a PhD seven years ago mattered for the job they have now and has made a difference to what they have been adding to our knowledge, economy and society.

We have today launched the main survey following completion of the pilot, and this is open until 31st May.

Previously we asked Doctoral graduates what they were doing about three years on from completing their studies. This was published by Vitae in the “What Do Researchers Do?” series (www.vitae.ac.uk/wdrd) The publication provides analysis of the Longitudinal survey of the Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education or L DLHE and provides some interesting evidence about the experience of doctoral study, the jobs and impact of doctoral graduates. This is all analysed by job clusters and broad disciplinary grouping.

Of course three years is rarely the whole story in a career and the new study is to ask about careers and impact further on. This presents its own challenges as people move, change jobs and (if they marry) may change names. Reaching enough people for the results of the survey to be robust remains a key challenge. If you, or someone you know finished a doctorate between 2003 and 2006, do please take part in the survey. Please pass this link to anyone else if relevant.

RCUK are not the only ones interested in what doctoral graduates have to say.  The Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales are partners in this study and we have jointly commissioned the research consultancy CFE to undertake it. CFE and their associates from The University of Sheffield and Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) bring not only the technical know-how and resources for managing and conducting the survey, but also expertise in developing questions that will show the impact that doctoral graduates have.

The importance of the project also means that we have a steering group including economics, labour market and survey expertise from government and academe as well as several of my colleagues from the Research Councils. This dedicated group have helped to design the questionnaire and are keenly awaiting the results.

Gateway to Research Hack Day event outputs

Over thirty technically minded people gathered together on the 14th &15th March 2013 at The Lakeside Centre at Aston University for the Hack Day hosted jointly by the Gateway to Research (GtR) project & United Kingdom Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN).

The event was helped along by the Developer Community Supporting Innovation (DevCSI) project. Their considerable expertise in running Hack events and engaging developers was a huge help in guiding the GtR team and developers over the two days.

The Hack opened by GtR Project Manager, Dr Darren Hunter, who gave a summary of the GtR project as a joint initiative between Research Councils UK to deliver a web based Portal to provide a single public point of access for searching and analysing information for Research Council funded research projects including their outcomes and outputs.

A key aim of the project was, as he explained, to facilitate improving the links between the research base within institutions and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The Hack itself had been set up to give the group chance to test the two APIs (CERIF and bespoke) that the GtR team had developed and also build prototype applications to show how they might be used in practice.

Darren, Paul Chitson (GtR Technical Co-ordinator), Rhys David (GtR Technical Architect) and Scott Paisey (GtR Developer) all got actively involved throughout the event.

The GtR team were keen to get feedback from all those involved with the Hack so they could find out how the APIs performed. At the end of the two days they were really encouraged by the amount that was achieved in such a short time and took away a number of actions that reinforced GtR user stories and added focus to some areas of the project.

This first hack event was primarily to provide early feedback and was kept necessarily small.  The team learnt a lot from all who were present and the organisers.  The excitement and interest have reinforced our commitment to run further hack events and challenges involving a wider audience.

In closing the event the GtR team stressed that they didn’t want to lose the momentum built up throughout the intensive two days and established a Google Group (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/gtrHackday) to keep developers informed about future build and to foster a community around the APIs. Watch this space for further details about the upcoming autumn Hack Day….

Check out this link for more detail about the day including videos.

UK- India research and innovation collaboration gets big fillip from PM summit

(Photo courtesy: www.ukinindia.fco.gov.uk) UK Prime Minister David Cameron and India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.

This has been a truly tremendous week for the Indo-UK research partnership.  UK Prime Minister David Cameron came to India on 18th February with the largest business and academic delegation ever to accompany a British Prime Minister.  That’s not counting four Ministers and a cross-party group of British Parliamentarians who also accompanied him.

Eleven UK University Vice Chancellors came not only to talk about the UK offer in Higher Education but also to launch a whole series of institution-to-institution partnerships cementing further the research links between the UK and India.  Universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge, Warwick and Cardiff all had major announcements to make on new partnerships.

The icing on the cake for the RCUK India team, however, was the extensive reference to the joint research programmes that we have set up with our Indian partners over the last four years, in the Summit Communiqué.   This states that [PMs Cameron and Singh] welcomed the rapid expansion of India-UK research and development cooperation which is helping to generate and develop high quality and high impact research partnerships leading to new knowledge creation.   Since RCUK India opened in 2008, the value of the co-funded research partnership has gone from less than £1 million to over £100 million and is still rising.  This is a reflection of both the strength of the UK and Indian research bases but also that crucial, global issues are being addressed through ground breaking research – renewable and other forms of energy, food security, climate change, water management, advanced engineering  – are key to the future prosperity of both countries.  Research collaboration is seen by both countries as a lynchpin, bringing us closer together.

It’s not only in the areas of physical sciences that we have established a very successful partnership, but also in the area of social sciences, arts and the humanities. India with its population of 1.2 billion undergoing rapid transition from a rural to a more urbanized society is going to be a fascinating place to study to learn about how and why these transitions happen and the cultural dimension of this rapid change.

We highlighted a series of new and ongoing programmes and initiatives; more information is available in our press note here.

There was an excellent meeting between our Science Minister, David Willets, and his Indian counterpart, Shri S Jaipal Reddy at which both said how much they welcomed the intensification of the relationship on research between the two countries.  David Willets highlighted eight technology areas of interest to the UK for international collaboration.  These were: the big data revolution and energy efficient computing; satellite technology; robotics and autonomous vehicles; synthetic biology; regenerative medicine; agri-science; advanced materials and nanotechnology; and energy storage.

It looks like we are going to be very busy…

India’s new 12th Five Year Plan – Faster, More Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.

The Planning Commission in India has been producing Five Year Plans since 1951.  These Plans set the strategic direction for the Government of India for the following five years.  In December 2012, the Planning Commission published the near final draft 12th Five Year Plan – Faster, More Inclusive and Sustainable Growth  Simultaneous achievement of these elements is seen as crucial for the success of the Plan.  The 12th Plan says that ‘[it] must be guided by a vision of India moving forward in a way that would ensure a broad-based improvement in living standards of all sections of the people through a growth process which is faster than in the past, more inclusive and also more environmentally sustainable’

Thus the 12th Plan calls for more attention to be given to problem of sustainability. It states that ‘No development process can afford to neglect the environmental consequences of economic activity, or allow unsustainable depletion and deterioration of natural resources’ and several chapters are devoted to the issues of water, land use, environment, forestry and wildlife.   

There is wide ranging discussion of how India should deal with the effects of climate change whilst an international agreement to tackle this issue remains to be reached.  The National Action Plan for climate change has evolved with eight component missions and implementation of these missions is seen as an integral part of the 12th Plan.  

The Plan is a substantial document in three volumes.  The first volume is an overarching document (the second and third volumes look in more detail at the economic and social sectors respectively).  Of particular interest to UK scientists is the extensive discussion and description of the scientific and technical challenges facing India.  Thus Chapter Four on Sustainable Development summarises the findings of the Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategies.  One of the interesting things in the Plan is the renewed interest in wind power.  Chapter Five on Water sets out the daunting challenges faced by Indian society and economy.  Water tables are falling and this comes at a time of rapid industrialising economy and urbanising society.  Climate change, of course, poses new challenges with its effects on the hydrological cycle.  It asserts that there is a need for a paradigm shift in the management of water resources in India.  Chapter Five on Environment, Forestry and Wildlife posits a new set of targets to be monitored covering, inter alia, environment and climate change, forests and livelihoods and ecosystem and biodiversity. 

Finally, science and technology is recognised as playing a critical role in the delivery of the 12th Plan.  There is an ambition to increase investment in in R&D from 1% to 2% of GDP.  Chapter Eight sets out the plans for the six major science Ministries and all see a substantial increase in funding.  Specific focus areas for the 12th Plan are: a) Enrichment of Knowledge Base – the aim is to position some of its R&D institutions in the top 50 in the world; b) Human Resource Development and University Interaction – a radical transformation of the science education system to improve the quality of S&T education and research at university level; c) Aligning S&T to Development Needs – to develop solutions to issues that are important for the country’s development goals, particularly in areas of energy, water, sanitation, farm production, health care, waste disposal, computing and communications, and e-infrastructure.

If the ambition of investing 2% of GDP on R&D is achieved and the quality of its research base is improved, then India, by virtue of its size is likely to be one of the most important scientific nations in the world.  What is certain is that India faces a host of challenges where capacity and capability in S&T and an innovation system that translates knowledge into solutions is going to be crucial.  All in all, an interesting read.

Introducing the beta Gateway to Research

Today (12 December 2012), Research Councils UK (RCUK) release the first phase of the Gateway to Research (GtR) portal and dataset –  a beta release. http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk

In January, we agreed with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to to deliver a “proof of concept” by the end of the year.

We hope we have delivered more than a proof of concept. The portal is live, the data is real. This is the first time that it has been possible to use one location to explore the entire breadth of the RCUK portfolio that results from the investment of around £3 Billion of public money annually in research and innovation.

The beta is an early release which will enable users to try out the system under real conditions. It has gone through robust testing in-house and is close in look, feel and function to how we envisage the final product. We want to engage with users to ensure that the functionality and data we are delivering meets their needs.

A few points about the system and data:

  • The dataset is currently a static dataset (i.e. at this stage it will not be routinely updated);
  • A public interface is available (API) that will enable external users to use the data. This will initially be a simple CERIF (XML) API, based on an international research information standard but others will follow (REST, OAI and SPARQL) to maximise potential users. Data that is visible on all the detailed screens will be viewable in XML;
  • We have used Open Source, Open Standards and adopted an Open Government Licence.

We intend to make user engagement a central part of the project’s development. Complementing this, there are a number of activities that we have identified which will enhance the user experience, enrich the information available, and help the Research Councils meet their obligations to make research information more open and better aligned with users’ needs. Some highlights of the next 12 months include: 

  • Expansion of the GtR dataset to include further Research Council information for example, studentships, all intra Council grants and linking to research datasets and publication repositories.
  • Making the GtR dataset dynamic, reflecting changes in source systems rapidly;
  • Further iterations of the User Interface based on feedback on the beta-system and changes prompted by the expanding dataset;
  • Working with JISC to enhance the experience of HEIs and other data users in depositing and harvesting data from the Research Councils;

The next year should provide exciting opportunities to demonstrate the value of RCUK research information in diverse settings. Hack days are being planned for the spring, with at least two different providers to ensure a range of approaches. This project has involved the Research Councils working cooperatively on a complex project, and rapid agreement has been reached on the key decision points to date. The final phase of the project will build on this.

RCUK celebrated five years of UK-China research success

By Dr Alicia Greated, Director RCUK China.

This week over 100 UK and Chinese delegates attended the event ‘RCUK China – Five Years and Beyond’ in Beijing, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of RCUK China. Delegates heard about current successful RCUK-China collaborations and contributed to discussions to scope future areas for collaborative RCUK-China activity. A UK delegation of 23 key research figures, including representatives from all seven UK Research Councils and leading academics, travelled to China to take part in the event.  Representatives from a range Chinese funding organisations, leading Chinese research institutions, and UK organisations based in China also actively contributed to the day’s discussions.

Major new investments were announced which will build on RCUK China’s success and ensure that the UK and China remain at the cutting edge of science and innovation.

 The British Ambassador to China, Sebastian Wood, announced that leading UK energy scientists have received £4million in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with matched resources from the NSFC, to work in partnership with researchers in China to develop better smart grid technology and to help both countries reduce their carbon footprint. In addition a new multi-million pound joint collaboration between RCUK and the NSFC in smart grids and the integration of electric vehicles was announced by Professor Rick Rylance (Chair of RCUK) and Professor Ding (NSFC).

 This brings the RCUK commitment to UK-China energy research alone to over £24million, with matched funding from Chinese partners.

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, said: “The UK’s relationship with China is extremely valuable in driving research and innovation. By co-operating in this way, both countries can enjoy more of the benefits that high-quality scientific research brings, including economic growth and a better quality of life. The new investments announced today will help to ensure that the partnership between our two countries goes from strength to strength.”

 Since its launch in 2007, RCUK China has supported a range of activities to promote UK-China research collaborations and the team has also helped developed a significant multi-million pound programme of joint funding activities with key research funders in China in areas including healthcare, social sciences, food security and energy. Professor Paul Boyle, RCUK’s International Champion, said: “International cooperation is a fundamental part of enhancing and stimulating the research we support in the UK, and China is a highly valued and important partner for us. RCUK China was the first overseas RCUK office and we are very excited about the great opportunities for building partnerships with our Chinese colleagues over the next five years.”