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Research council shake-up would be ‘detrimental’, warns Royal Society

The Royal Society has warned the team carrying out a triennial review of the UK’s research councils against making changes to their existing configuration, saying it would be “disruptive and detrimental”.

The statement was made in the Royal Society’s response to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ consultation, as part of the review.

“There is no evidence that restructuring the existing configuration of councils, into fewer bodies for example, would be more effective than the existing structure; it would be disruptive and detrimental,” reads the submission.

However, the research councils could benefit from becoming more consistent in their “approach to the scientific governance of their portfolios”, it continues. For example, not all councils have standing expert panels to guide scientific direction and priorities but instead more “ad-hoc arrangements”.

The Royal Society also identifies communication between research council executives and researchers as an area that could do with improvement. “Recent examples of public disagreement…have highlighted weaknesses in lines of communication”, it says. “The emphasis for the councils should be on bi-directional engagement with their communities, rather than communicating decisions already made.”

Last year, a group of physical scientists launched a protest against the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, arguing the council had failed to consult thoroughly before making changes to its research portfolio.

The society also recommends setting up a high-level advisory group in which the chairmen, chairwomen and representatives of the seven research councils could meet with senior researchers to facilitate a “sharing of best practice”.