'Next Steps': PPARC/CCLRC reply to RAS
Following the RAS 's comments on the PPARC/CCLRC response to the 'Next Steps' consultation, the 2 Councils have issued an open reply to clarify their position.
"We very much welcome the Society’s response to our joint response to the Next Steps consultation exercise.
As the Society notes there are four key principles underpinning our response which it endorses: the new merged Research Council must be science-driven; it must be focussed on delivering long-term planning driven by a science strategy advised by a Science Committee; its investment choices must be fully tensioned through peer-review; and the same Council should be responsible (in some but not all cases) for the funding of fundamental research, R&D and the exploitation of facilities through grants as well as planning for and operating new facilities.
These principles are in our view and that of our respective Councils, key to the success of the new Research Council that we propose. It is clear however that the emphasis in our response on how we can deliver and manage a more effective strategy for the UK in relation to large-scale facilities - the key issue raised in the Next Steps document - has created concern in some quarters that the development and delivery of this strategy will be the over-riding preoccupation of the new Council.
There are four key points we wish to clarify.
1. The raison d’être of the proposed new Research Council must and will be the advancement of science and the highest quality research: how to enable our researchers to be even more internationally competitive. It is the science, and the continuous need to find smarter ways of exploiting both current and new technologies to enable our research communities tackle the most challenging science questions, that will drive the requirement for new facilities and research infrastructure. It is the science that will drive and attract innovative solutions which can be translated into knowledge that is transferable across disciplines and into industry and commerce.
2. We recognise that researchers cover a broad spectrum in terms of how closely connected their work is with large-scale facilities. We differentiated in our response between research constituencies, where the majority uses and is closely interested in the design and development of facilities as well as their exploitation, from those research communities who require short-term access to multi-disciplinary facilities. We contend that the first set should receive funding for grants exploitation from the new Research Council while the multi-disciplinary nature of the latter means that their exploitation support is best funded by their respective specialist Research Councils. In drawing this broad, and in our view valid, distinction we recognised, but should have made more explicit, that within astronomy there is a very important group of researchers whose work is less closely connected with facilities than that of some of their colleagues or which requires smaller scale infrastructure. However it is our view that for the overall coherence and health of the field of astronomy it is crucial that all of the community is funded from a single Council within which the competing demands of researchers are fully recognised and tensioned.
3. We agree totally that the health of any discipline depends on sufficient investment on science exploitation through grants. A key element of the new Council’s responsibility must be to ensure that the necessary level of investment in grants to universities is in no way prejudiced by either the demand for more and more facilities or by pressures to maintain existing ones beyond the point where they are highly productive and internationally competitive. Equally we recognise that fundamental research, R&D, instrumentation and technology development must continue to be carried out by universities as well as the Research Council’s own institutes.
4. We recognise that there must be effective and transparent structures and processes in place to ensure an optimal balance of investment driven by the needs of the science and that resources are competed for on a level playing field between university groups, the Research Council’s institutes, and overseas organisations responsible for the operation of facilities. It will be the role of the proposed Science Strategy Committee to advise on what this balance should be. It will be supported by a peer-review structure which will advise on the competing demands of specific science areas, between grants, projects and facilities, and on how and where the best science is best delivered.
In conclusion we believe the way forward we have proposed is in the long-term interests of UK astronomy as well as other areas of science for which the new Research Council will be responsible. We recognise that there is much work still to do to make sure we have the right structures and processes in place to achieve the objectives and adhere to the principles we believe we are agreed on. If the Government decides our proposals are the right way forward, we will work with the various communities, professional institutions and learned societies to make sure we get it right.
Keith Mason Chief Executive, PPARC
John Wood Chief Executive, CCLRC
5 June 2006
The RAS's own response to the 'Next Steps' consultation can be read here
RAS President Michael Rowan-Robinson's PowerPoint presentation to the joint IoP/RAS town meeting on the Government's 'next steps' consultation, held at the IOP on June 14th can be seen here