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EPSRC aims for research to support government policy

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council wants the research it funds to support and influence government policies such as the industrial strategy and the eight great technologies initiative, according to its strategic plan for the next 5 years.

The updated strategy was published on 2 December. The council’s approach is different to that for its previous strategy update in 2010—it has aligned the latest strategy to the UK’s industrial strategy and the eight great technologies, announced by chancellor George Osborne and then science minister David Willetts in 2012. "We need to sustain a balanced programme of investment in science and engineering to ensure research supports, influences and informs UK policies such as the government’s Industrial Strategy," the document says.

Speaking about the strategy to Research Fortnight ahead of the launch, EPSRC chief executive Philip Nelson said the government has become more "pro-active in defining strategy" in recent years, and added it was "very, very important that we contribute to the national agenda, which is really making sure that our scientific discoveries get pulled through into practical application, as effectively and quickly as  possible."

The plan is broken down into three strategies that remain more or less the same—balancing capability, building leadership and accelerating impact. It also includes the development of metrics to measure research impact, to be published in the EPSRC’s delivery plan at a later date. The EPSRC told Research Fortnight that these will include citation metrics, which have previously been used by the council, but that it wants to "consider other ways of measuring success”.

The “shaping capability” in the 2010 strategy, which was denounced by many researchers who argued that the EPSRC did not consult widely enough when forming it, has been replaced by balancing capability. A spokesman for the council says the strategy is an "evolution", as the shaping exercise has now been completed. The updated strategy also includes two goals—to support both discovery-based research and speeding up the commercialisation of research.              

Philip Moriarty, a physicist at the University of Nottingham who was a vocal critic of Shaping Capability, says that the updated plan is “the same old” thing. He says that the focus on leaders remains, which is a problem because, “It affects the independence of early career researchers and means that the focus is on ‘recognised’ leadership, rather than ideas.” He is also concerned about where basic research will fit in. “The council claims to support basic research but given that each grant proposal has to be accompanied by a Pathways to Impact statement, what does it understand by basic research?” he says.