The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has today published a review of its “Balancing Capability” strategy.
This follows “extensive engagement” with the research community and forms the basis of its portfolio over the next five years. It includes a review of the 111 individual research areas which span the entire remit of EPSRC funding as well as a useful plan of forthcoming calls in 2017/18.
Nine research areas have been marked as “reduce“, including Chemical structure, Complexity science, Fuel cell technology and Medical imaging. 12 areas have been marked as “grow“, including Biophysics and soft matter physics, Electrical motors and drives, Materials for energy applications, Robotics and Pervasive and ubiquitous computing. The remaining 90 areas are all “maintain“. For more on what the grow-maintain-reduce distinction means in practice, check out this useful blog post from October 2016 by Professor Tom Rodden, Deputy CEO at EPSRC.
The planned 2017/18 calls include several in the area of ICT: Trust, Identity, Privacy and Security 2.0 (planned for Q4 2017/18), Human-like Computing (Q3 2017/18), and Cross-Disciplinary and Co-Creationary ICT-led Research (Q4 2016/17). There are also a number of planned Healthcare Technologies calls and two Global Challenges Research Fund calls planned in Q4 2016/17 and Q1 2017/18, titles of which are yet to be announced.
The high level framework for EPSRC’s approach has already been set out in its Strategic Plan (2015) and, more recently, its Delivery Plan 2016/17 – 2019/20, which sets out four “prosperity outcomes” which will shape its funding decisions: Productive Nation, Healthy Nation, Resilient Nation, and Connected Nation. After his arrival in post in 2014, EPSRC Chief Executive Professor Philip Nelson was keen to prioritise engagement with the research community on shaping future research priorities, especially following criticism that his predecessor, David Delpy. had made decisions on funding strategy without properly consulting researchers.
Whether and to what extent this five-year plan will be strengthened, altered or made redundant once Sir Mark Walport takes the reins at UKRI (expected to be active from April 2018) is an open question. Nevertheless, in the short term at least this review provides a useful focus for universities and academics who are preparing grant applications to EPSRC or delivering EPSRC-funded research.