The UK Parliament wants more academics to engage with them

From York to Dundee, over 50 academics and professional staff attended Wednesday’s information-packed Research, Impact and the UK Parliament event held here at Northumbria.

The key message was that the UK Parliament want academics and the research community to engage with them. They really really want to hear from YOU! This is great news as it could help you get your research into Parliament and make an impact on policy.

Here are their top tips:

  • The UK Parliament Universities Team have created a new Research Impact and Parliament webpage which is full of contact details and
    Palace of Westminster

    how to guides. Visit this page and explore all the links and resources.

  • Be active on twitter. Tweet about your research and follow @POST_UK and @YourUKParl.
  • Blog about your research. Write for informed, interested non-experts. This will make it easier for the research staff at UK Parliament to digest the information and recognise its value in meeting their specific needs and make it more likely that they will interact with you.
  • Sign up for email updates or follow relevant select committees on Twitter
  • If you respond to requests for evidence or make contact with Parliamentary staff, ensure you are writing for informed, interested, non-experts. Be concise, don’t use jargon and don’t expect them to already know about your expertise or research. When setting out your academic expertise (beyond answering the question asked or point of knowledge you are putting forward) link to your profile or additional pdf documents. This will ensure that the key message is not lost. Committees are cross-party, and you are most likely to be listened to if you are objective and do not (even unintentionally) appear to take a political side.
  • If you find out about an inquiry too late, yet think you have something valuable to say, email and ask if you can still submit.
  • Use the Parliament website to research which MPs, Lords, Parliamentary staff or committees will be interested in your research and make contact with them.

Find out more!

www.parliament.uk/research-impact

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology’s website

Caroline Kenny’s blog about the impact of academia on Parliament

Current open calls for evidence

See what the Universities Programme offers for academics

View Research Briefings from Parliament

www.parliament.uk/get-involved

Follow UK Parliament on Twitter:

@POST_UK

@YourUKParl

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REF 2021: Guidance Released

This afternoon HEFCE released the decisions on staff and outputs for REF 2021. Our very own Ruth Hattam was digesting the details over lunch and has come up with a useful bitesize summary. If that’s not enough REF for you you can always read the full thing (it’s only 19 pages): http://www.ref.ac.uk/media/ref,2021/downloads/REF%202017_04%20Decisions.pdf

  • All staff with significant responsibility for research are returned to REF provided they are independent researchers.  As expected, institutions not going with 100% submission will be able to determine the criteria for identifying staff with significant responsibility.  My reading of the guidance is that it will be possible to consider different criteria for different UoAs, although the rationale for all decisions will need to be captured in the Code of Practice (guidance summer 2018, provisional submission spring 2019).  Further guidance on significant responsibility criteria (determined in conjunction with main panels) will form part of the Guidance on submissions/Panel criteria – the final versions of which will not be available until January 2019.
  • Independent researcher criteria will build on REF 2014 definition and will be worked on with the main panels.
  • ORCID strongly encouraged by not mandated.
  • Average number of outputs is 2.5 per FTE submitted.
  • Minimum of one, maximum of 5 outputs per member of staff (this is a soft 5 with no limit on co-authored papers).  Staff can be returned with zero outputs through an individual circumstances process.  The unit of assessment can also make  case for ‘unit circumstances’ to reduce the overall number of outputs required.
  • Impact case studies will be 2 for up to 15 FTE, then one for each additional 15 FTE (up to 105 FTE when one additional per 50 FTE)
  • Staff census date is 31 July 2020.  Hefce intend to work with HESA ‘to enable close alignment between the information collected and the staff record and the submission requirements of REF.
  • Output portability is the simplified model (i.e. outputs can be returned at current and previous institution – with some caveats).  (85% of the 157 respondents supported this model).
  • The original Open Access requirement (i.e. deposit within 3 months of date of acceptance) will be implemented from April 2018, although there will be the opportunity to record exceptions when deposit is 3 months after publication.

 

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RCUK Energy Programme Regional Meeting – Notes and Observations

Hybrid system by Nenad Kajić
Hybrid system by Nenad Kajić CC BY-SA
Hybrid System by Nenad Kajić CC BY-SA

Last week I traveled down to Leeds to take part in the RCUK Energy Programme Regional Meeting. Although this was billed as a Research Councils UK event, EPSRC were definitely running the show, with an hour of the morning session dedicated to a presentation by Kathryn Magnay, Energy Theme Lead at EPSRC and most of the afternoon devoted to breakout sessions on different topics by various EPSRC Portfolio and Programme Managers.

The Energy Programme is a cross-Council collaborative effort to “position the UK to meet its energy and environmental targets and policy goals through high quality research and postgraduate training.” Alongside EPSRC, which leads the theme, BBSRC, STFC, NERC and ESRC are also involved in co-funding some programmes, as well as Innovate UK and BEIS.

Apart from EPSRC input, there were nine short presentations from Northern universities, including Leeds, Sheffield, York, Newcastle, Durham, and Northumbria. These gave a brief snapshot of energy-related research activity at the respective institutions and suggested that there is a diverse and thriving programme of research in this area.

Key messages:

  • The Energy theme will shift from predominantly managed calls to responsive mode funding. The EPSRC’s Council has a target of 60% Energy theme funding to be driven by the research community via responsive mode grant applications by the end of the delivery plan. However, there are no plans to establish separate panels for Energy themed applications. Normally they will be considered by Engineering panels (or Physical Sciences/Materials where this is the main focus). At the moment, the Energy applications will be ranked in the same ordered list as other types of proposals, but if there is sufficient demand then EPSRC will consider setting up a separate list for Energy themed bids.
  • EPSRC staff gave an overview of the three main responsive mode grant schemes: Standard Grants, Fellowship Grants, and First Grants: Standard grants are often collaborative and in the region of £500k – £1.2M, although smaller and larger values are possible; Fellowships support the development of future research leaders; First Grants are small short grants designed to kickstart your research career as an independent academic.
  • There was a summary of success rates for various schemes compared with all proposals submitted to the Energy theme:
    Establish Fellowships 60%
    Early Career Fellowships 22%
    Postdoctoral Fellowships 21%
    Standard Grants 37%
    First Grants 29%
    All Energy Proposals 35%
  • A session dedicated to Fellowships emphasized the focus is on the candidate and their potential for future leadership, and that the Fellowship should enable you to achieve your personal research vision, your “niche”, and that you should have the ambition to build a team around you and also engage with the public/media. There is up to 12 months allowed in a Fellowship for a secondment to another academic institution or industry. EPSRC would like to see more Fellowship applications in the Energy theme.
  • Equality and diversity is a major priority for this theme following the revelation that only 11% of PIs funded through the Energy theme are female. To help achieve this, there will be a “Diversity Challenge Call” of up to £5M for projects which demonstrate a step-change in the community towards E&D. A call for outline proposals will open in July 2017 and EPSRC will be looking for institutional-level bids.
  • The EPSRC’s recently completed Balancing Capability exercise was pitched as a chance to “create space for new activities”. With regards to the “grow, reduce, maintain” labels, participants were encouraged to read the underpinning description which is unique for each of the 111 research areas and reveals the strategy for each area. Of the energy-related areas, it was noted that “Storage” and “Materials for Energy Applications” are both labelled “Grow”, while “Fuel Cells” is “Reduce”.
  • There are likely to be more Energy-related opportunities available through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, for which priority areas are currently being finalised. Three relevant challenge areas are “New energy technologies”, “Integrated and Sustainable Cities” and “Robotics and Artificial Intelligence”, which has a focus on battery research.
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HEFCE’s David Sweeney Blogs: Who Is Research Active?

HEFCE’s Director of Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange, and one of the key architects of the next REF, David Sweeney has published an interesting blog about who counts as “research active” ahead of the closure of the REF2021 consultation tomorrow. He suggests there has been a lot of “push back” from the HE sector on the consultation proposal that “research active” should be determined by contractual status, and that there should be another evidence-based and mutually agreed approach. It’s not clear what this would be, but interesting to see that there’s already movement on this even before consultation responses are in.

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EPSRC Reviews Research Areas and Plans 2017/18 Calls

balance by Hans Splinter CC BY-ND 2.0
balance by Hans Splinter CC BY-ND 2.0
balance by Hans Splinter CC BY-ND 2.0

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.

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DON’T MISS OUT – ECR event on the HEFCE consultation on the next REF, Tues 14 Feb, 1pm

As many of you may know, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has launched the consultation for the next Research Excellence Framework. This includes proposals intended to streamline the REF process and make it less burdensome for UK universities whilst maintaining and improving incentives for research excellence.  It includes recommendations relating to: the submission of staff and outputs, the approach to the assessment of impact, and the introduction of an institutional level assessment.

Are you keen to find out about the next Research Excellence Framework and what it might mean for you as an ECR? The next REF is going to take place in 2021 and the University, like other HEIs, is currently preparing a response to the national consultation on what the REF should look like. There are some changes we know will take place compared to REF 2014 but other issues are still under consultation. The University is preparing a response and would like to give the ECR community an opportunity to feed into this. We are holding an event on Tuesday 14th February from 1.00-2.30 in room 209, Sutherland Building, City Campus. Feel free to bring your lunch along too.

Sign up here to attend.

Full details of the consultation can be found on the HEFCE website here.

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Government response to Dowling Review of business-university collaborations – brief summary

collaboration-1106196_960_720The Government published its response to the Dowling Review on 20th December welcoming and strongly supporting the review which it says is reflected in the £100m over four years it announced in the last budget to support university-business collaboration – ‘The Dowling Review will continue to guide our ongoing work to reform and simplify public support for research and development and maximise the potential benefits of collaboration between business and our academic research base.’

This is a summary of the main points:

  • UK Research and Investment (UKRI) will be the Government’s instrument to connect businesses with research by allocating funding for research and innovation, act as a champion for the UK’s world class system and drive future discovery and growth. It will incorporate the functions of the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK, and HEFCE’s research funding and knowledge exchange responsibilities (assuming it is approved by Parliament).
  • Public support for the innovation system is too complex. Actions taken by the Government include a simplified offer for Innovate UK funding, thinking about how to design a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund delivered by Innovate UK and research councils, and research councils are looking at changing the system of research and innovation funding. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on this one.
  • People are central to successful collaborations. The emphasis on research impact and the research environment alongside outputs is seen as a way to encourage and reward collaboration with business and commercialisation of research in the public interest. Various existing initiatives are listed that support academics to develop collaborative skills or promote the benefits of collaboration. However it doesn’t say much else about how to meet Dowling’s recommendations on ‘…creating an incentive framework for universities and businesses which promotes the transfer of ideas and people between business and academia, and recommended supporting students to develop business awareness at an early stage of their research careers, continuing to fund schemes which support mobility between academia and business and ensuring that researchers who are successful in collaborations are valued in terms of career progression and assessment of research output – including by increasing the emphasis on collaboration in the Research Excellence Framework (REF).’ It says it’s up to universities how they direct their priorities to suit local strengths and needs.
  • Effective brokerage is crucial, particularly for SMEs, and continued support is needed for activities that help seed collaborations. The Gateway to Research web portal is seen as a step towards meeting the need for digital tools to identify potential research partners and the National Centre for Universities and Business is developing an ‘Intelligent Brokerage Tool’. The government has reaffirmed its long term commitment to knowledge exchange including funding for the Higher Education Innovation Fund, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to develop detailed proposals for allocating this funding to support universities in England. The Dowling Review highlighted Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAAs) and recommended their use more widely. This is likely to be welcomed by those universities who currently do not have an IAA.
  • Pump prime funding would stimulate the development of high quality research collaborations with critical mass and sustainability and more should be done to help existing efforts evolve from short-term, project-based collaborations to longer term partnerships focussed on use-inspired research. The document simply lists existing strategies that are aimed at addressing this.
  • Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge exchange over short term income generation, and further work is required to improve approaches to contracts and IP agreements. The government has a clear expectation that exploitation of research means prioritising the long term benefits to the nation. This priority is reflected in the support and incentives provided by public research funding and the REF is the principal tool for incentivising behaviour around university research. It also points to the Lambert toolkit supporting IP processes but acknowledges that there is a need to simplify complex and time-consuming processes to agree collaborations. The McMillan review of technology transfer practice and the development of the knowledge exchange framework are cited as progress in this area.
  • Government strategy on innovation needs to be better coordinated and have greater visibility. They are aiming to achieve this through the Industrial Strategy and establishing UKRI. They also see a role for the Science and Innovation Audits bringing together businesses, universities and local enterprise partnerships. The Accelerated Access Review of the NHS also supports innovations in medicine

You can read the Government’s response to the Dowling Review in full here.

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IRAS– NHS/Social Care Ethics and Governance

Are you planning to work with patients in the NHS, offenders or social care organisations?? Then you will need to submit your project ethics and governance to the Integrated Research Application System.

The Integrated Research Application System (IRAS) is an online (web-based) system for preparing regulatory and governance applications for health and social care research. It is a UK-wide system, which is provided by the HRA on behalf of the IRAS partners, who include:

  • UK Health Departments
  • Administration of Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee (ARSAC)
  • Health Research Authority
  • Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA)
  • Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
  • National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network (NIHR CRN), England
  • National Research Ethics Service, including the Gene Therapy Advisory Committee (GTAC)
  • ‘National Information Governance Board (NIGB)’ – since April 2013, the Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG), part of the HRA
  • National Offender Management Service (NOMS)
  • National Social Care Research Ethics Committee

IRAS captures the information needed for the relevant approvals from the following bodies:

  • Administration of Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee (ARSAC)
  • Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG)
  • Gene Therapy Advisory Committee (GTAC)
  • Health Research Authority (HRA) for projects seeking HRA Approval
  • Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
  • NHS / HSC R&D offices
  • NHS / HSC Research Ethics Committees
  • National Offender Management Service (NOMS)
  • Social Care Research Ethics Committee

Website address: www.myresearchproject.org.uk

To learn more about the IRAS process at Northumbria see our Ethics and governance page https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/research/ethics-and-governance/

Make an appointment to come and speak to us about your IRAS application ethicssupport@northumbria.ac.uk 

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House of Commons Select Committee Report on Leaving the EU

brexitUKRO has informed us that the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has  published a report into the implications of leaving the EU for UK science and research, which states that the Government must send a clear message that it intends to protect the UK’s strength in science. It suggests that  the Autumn Statement is used to commit to raising the UK’s expenditure on science R&D to 3% of GDP to demonstrate a determination to negotiate a post-Brexit relationship that is good for science and science collaborations.

In particular, it recommends that:

  • Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to communicate messages of ongoing support for the science and research community in the context of its Brexit plans;
  • Government should be mindful of the need to clarify future immigration rules so that the UK continues to attract top-quality researchers;
  • An immediate commitment should be made to EU researchers currently working in the UK, to exempt them from any potential outfall arising from Brexit negotiations;
  • The interim Chair of UKRI should be formally appointed to act as a ‘bridge’ between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU); and
  • DexEU should appoint a Chief Scientific Advisor as a matter of priority.

 

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