Research Councils in 2013, Part 2: Je-S, EPSRC and NERC Priorities

This is part 2 of a 2-part series. Read the first part here.

Je-S, the Research Council (RC) joint electronic submission system used for pre- and post-award management was the topic of an open discussion. A number of issues were raised along with suggestions for improvement:

  • Doesn’t allow for ‘soft’ deadlines, to give admin offices time to review proposals before submission – perhaps ROs (Research Organisations) could be given capacity to set own Je-S deadlines
  • Doesn’t allow you to see where academics are involved in proposals as Co-Is with other institutions. This can lead to last minute costings being requested
  • Doesn’t give enough detail about pre-award status – i.e. it just says ‘with Council’ when a bid has been submitted, but this status covers a number of different stages
  • Doesn’t allow for multiple users to edit at the same time and documents can be locked for up to 2 hours by one editor who forgets to log out
  • Some Councils have started using their own online forms for outline bids which reflects a lack of flexibility in Je-S, but can add complexity and confusion for ROs
  • Not all Councils allow ‘joint’ or linked proposals which allow each institution in a multi-partner bid to input their own costs. The reasons for this were that multiple Je-S forms are administratively more complex for the RC, but this effectively transfers the admin burden to ROs

While answers weren’t forthcoming during the event, all the issues will be taken away by the Je-S team in SSC for a feasibility discussion. Despite these problems, the general feeling among the room was that Je-S is a fairly good system overall for managing pre- and post-award activity, especially in comparison to other funders’ electronic systems.

Sam Madden (EPSRC) gave an update on EPSRC priorities over the coming year. Their spending commitment spike in 2012/13 (which we’ve discussed previously) is almost over, which means that there will be a sharp drop in the number of managed calls from now until at least 2014/15. Most of the budget commitment over the next year for research will be on responsive mode applications.

The main priority for EPSRC in 2013 (reflecting the vast majority of their budget commitment this year) is the Centres for Doctoral Training call, which was prefigured in November last year with a short report on priorities, but will be officially released in early February with an April deadline for outline proposals and a July deadline for full applications.

Physical Sciences are prioritising Early Career Resarchers over the next 12 months, through fellowships and other mechanisms. Engineering and ICT both want to encourage more fellowship applications, having received very few bids over the last year. Maths is also encouraging fellowship applications at the interfaces with ICT and the Living with Environmental Change programme.

In terms of peer review, EPSRC will be looking at the numbers of proposals which are returned for amendment, for example where Justification of Resources or letters of support are inadequate.

Avril Allman (NERC) discussed the new NERC strategy which is currently in development. This will be published in Feb/Mar 2013 for consultation. Current proposals emphasise “Discovery Science” (another name for blue skies/responsive mode applications) alongside three ‘societal challenges’ to be addressed by NERC-funded research. These are:

  • Environmental change
  • Environmental hazards
  • Resource security and supply

There are also preliminary discussions underway at NERC about funding impact through a block grant to ROs, presumably based on the amount of current NERC funding, rather than on a proposal by proposal basis as presently the case. As in the other Councils, there will be and end to NERC final reports (though not to Final Expenditure Statements) as they shift to using the Research Outcomes System to capture this data.

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