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STFC streamlines scientific advisory structure

The Science and Technology Facilities Council’s top-level science committees are to merge into a single advisory board.

The council announced on 25 July that its science board will absorb the two bodies that report directly to it—the Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Physics Committee and the Physical and Life Sciences Committee.

The new 16-member body, which will continue to be called the science board, will come into effect on 1 August.

The STFC said the new structure will provide “clearer advice and connection with the community”, as well as saving money.

John Womersley, STFC’s director of science programmes, told Research Fortnight Today that the changes will save the council a little over £100,000 per year in meeting costs, travel, and logistics—“important in times like this”.

Changes to the way facilities are funded and the creation of the UK space agency are also reasons for the move, he said.

“This gives us a more flexible geometry,” he said. “It also reflects the fact that the big facilities that we operate for the research councils now have their own separate governance structure and the UK Space Agency, which is being created, has some of its own advisory processes.”

The new board, said Womersley, will continue to oversee the whole breadth of the STFC programme, but with an extended remit.

“We’ve made it clear in the terms of reference that that includes looking at the scientific component of all STFC’s activities, including things like the development of the science and innovation campuses, so it’s not just our grant-supported programme,” he said.

The 16 board members, who will come from the existing science board, PPAN and PALS, will eventually be slimmed to 12. There will also be a college of non-core experts, to which the board can go for advice on particular issues.

Non-core members will also be available to join specific sub-groups set up by the board. Womersley noted that the board is likely to set up such a group in the PPAN disciplines, where the workload is heavy.

The STFC has launched a consultation with the scientific community on the future of its subject-specific advisory panels, currently reporting through PPAN and PALS.

These panels were established in 2008 and their advice fed into a major revision of the STFC’s science programme.

The council says it has “recognised the importance” of such panels, and that it still sees a role for them. It may, however, reduce the number of panels “to streamline advice while reducing the cost of operating the system”.

“It is clear in the interaction with [the community] that they value these kinds of advisory committees…” said Womersley. “I think the recognition that there needs to be a sustained dialogue with the community is a lesson that we’ve learnt.”

The consultation closes on 14 October. Changes to the advisory structure will be implemented on 1 April 2012.

The STFC has also decided that the accelerator strategy board, the projects peer review panel, advisory panel on science in society, the education training and careers committee, and the grants panels will continue to report to the science board.

Noting that the STFC has held discussions with other research councils in making its decision, Womersley said the concept of a board with a core membership and a larger college is similar to changes made by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.