Monday, 3 January 2011

Hermione Granger on the EPSRC Delivery Plan

On 21 December 2010 the EPSRC published its Delivery Plan for the next four years, available from the EPSRC website. Headline figures include
  • a decrease in research grant support from the current £433M pa (new projects) to £409M in 2011/12 a decrease (not taking inflation into account) of 5.5%, with further cuts to a total of 14% by 2014/15;
  • support for new fellowships will decrease immediately by 13.7%;
  • modest rises in support of studentships and knowledge transfer;
  • overall reduction of spending of 6% by 2014/15.
Whilst the bottom line is in keeping with expectations and the recognized value of science research, the numbers mask a major philosophical shift in the role of research councils. The three core goals are delivering impact, creating leaders and sharing capability; and whilst these are all laudable goals the first 'strategic decision' is to
[d]eliver a programme of transformational change. We will move from being a funder to a sponsor of research, where our investments act as a national resource focused on outcomes for the UK good and where we more proactively partner with the researchers we support.
This is echoed in statements further on in their document with statements such as
[EPSRC will, i]n concert with our partners in business, academia and government, co-define more explicitly the landscape of research we wish to support.
The fact that the science research budget has been to some extent protected is positive, but there is a real danger that, whatever the rhetoric, short term potential outcomes are going to drive the research agenda of the UK. Concerns about the Haldane Principle, due to be 'clarified' in the next few months, are more valid as a result of this document.

After Dolores Umbridge's first speech on educational matters to Hogwarts' students leaves Harry and Ron confused, it is left to Hermione Granger, the smartest witch in her generation, to explain what is going on (and Emma Watson does a wonderful job of expressing both frustration at the boys' stupidity and outrage at the Ministry's actions in one short sentence):
It means that the Ministry is interfering in Hogwarts.
 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, film version)

Of course, this was always the case. The issue is not whether it interferes, but how and with what impact. And with what level of consideration of consequences other than that of meeting the obvious short-term and partly self-imposed fiscal goals?