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STFC backs advisory panels – with changes

The Science and Technology Facilities Council has announced it is to keep its subject-specific scientific advisory panels but that the number of panels and the areas they represent will change.

The STFC announced on 25 July that it was considering reducing the number of subject-specific panels that feed into science board decisions in order to “streamline advice while reducing the cost of operating the system”. A consultation on the matter closed on 14 October.

The council has now decided that some of the panels, first established in 2008, will be scrapped while others will be created. It is to keep panels in the areas of particle physics, nuclear physics, and particle astrophysics.

For astronomy, it has scrapped the “near universe” and “far universe” advisory panels and replaced them with a single astronomy panel. It has also set up a solar system science systems advisory panel.

In a consultation report on the new structure, the council says the astronomy and solar systems science panels will be encouraged to meet together, as will the particle physics and particle astrophysics panels.

The council has decided to get rid of the two facilities panels, “neutron” and “photon”, noting the consultation responses suggest that the facility user groups do not offer “sufficient opportunity to provide strategic input to STFC”.

Instead, it will establish two new facilities advisory panels: one in physical sciences and engineering and another in life sciences and soft materials.

The panels for computing, futures, and science in society will continue operating.

Reforming the panels is part of a wider effort to “streamline” the STFC’s top-level advisory structure. The council has already announced 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.

That means the advisory panels will report to the new 16-member science board instead of PPAN and PALS.

A clear distinction will be made between Science Board and the advisory panels regarding their respective roles, says the council.

“Science Board is a strategic committee providing scientific overview and assessment of, and science advice on, all of the programmes STFC supports. The APs should represent the views of their specific communities and develop science and technology roadmaps relevant to their specific areas,” reads the consultation document.

Each advisory panel will consist of a chairman or chairwoman, along with a deputy and up to 12 members. STFC will provide funding for the panels to have two meetings per year and an annual community meeting. They will be encouraged to “self-organise email discussions and teleconferences in between these meetings”.

The STFC document says that its 38 consultation responses “broadly welcomed the decision by STFC to simplify and streamline its advisory processes” but that there were some concerns about the new structure.

One respondent noted that since PPAN and PALS had been merged into a single science board representing the whole STFC programme, the advisory panels should “play an important role in providing the science board with subject-specific expertise”.