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IoP criticises lack of consultation on ‘fundamental new approach’

The Institute of Physics has raised concerns about a lack of consultation on the “fundamentally new approach” in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s research portfolio, published on 20 July.

“Although the Institute of Physics was briefed on the plans, despite statements to the contrary, the Institute was not consulted,” said Peter Knight, president-elect of the Institute.

In a Times Higher Education article on 21 July, David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC, said the council had “consulted and sought evidence from both academic and industrial bodies”.

The EPSRC has made several decisions on which research fields are to reduce or grow, based on new criteria such as potential impact on the UK economy.

The document specifies that, from autumn onwards, all grant applications must include justification of the “strategic fit” of research into the EPSRC portfolio, as well as the importance of the work in a national or international context.

However, the IoP argues that the council should have consulted the wider research community before introducing new criteria for determining the importance of a research field.

“Members of the physics community have already expressed their concern that the UK’s strong track record in science, which has stemmed from funding excellence in research, as judged by scientific peers, will be jeopardised by too strong a focus on short-term gains,” said Knight.

“A key part of EPSRC’s remit is to fund basic research and enable researchers to take the first steps in, what might promise to be, exciting new fields. This type of research can lead on to key new scientific and engineering developments with large societal benefits and huge economic value,” he added.