The following is a copy of the letter sent to Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive ( Designate) of the STFC on 13 March 2007 by Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, President of the RAS
It was good of you to attend the RAS Council meeting last week.
I am writing to follow up one of the issues which was raised, namely the way in which research grant applications will be assessed by the STFC.
You explained that, at £60m, the grants line was the single biggest item of expenditure and that it was necessary that decisions about allocation were fair and transparent, while taking account of the strategic priorities set by the Science Board (based on advice from the Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Physics Science Committee as well as the Physical and Life Sciences Committee).
You said that the way in which the Grants Panels will function is still being decided and that proposals would be circulated for comment. We note, from the information on the SFTC web site, that the Astronomy Grants Panel is expected to ‘take account of the recommendations of external referees and the conclusions of specialist peer review panels, particularly the proposed standard grants sub-panel…(and) may additionally convene panels to advise on new or substantially modified rolling grants, contiguous groups of research requests (such as those related to exploiting a major facility or instrument investment), or research requests which are judged (on the basis of cost or propriety) to warrant such separate, in-depth assessment’.
While we appreciate the need to make procedures as efficient as possible, and would be happy to discuss how this can be achieved, we would be concerned if, to reduce costs, the use of metrics, in place of peer review resulted in flawed outcomes. The view of the Council was that the community would rather maintain a high level of engagement through peer review, allowing that it is time consuming and onerous, than jeopardize confidence in the grant allocation process.
We look forward to having sight of the proposed structures ( and hope they can be discussed during the ‘community session’ at the NAM on 19 April)