Seems like my concern (in an earlier post about EPSRC Fellowships) regarding EPSRC’s research funding philosophy is not completely unfounded. In an article in the Times Higher Education it is reported that EPSRC starts to impose order on its universe.
The basic idea seems to be that EPSRC will specify, quite specifically, what they are willing to fund. They also appear to be explicitly regarding themselves as “sponsors” of research, rather than “funders” of research. I must admit that I don’t quite know, at this stage, what the distinction is. I do, however, have a concern than funding councils like EPSRC will start to feel that they should decide what research needs to be done and regard university researchers as “contractors” who carry out the specified research. I think this is a very dangerous policy to follow as it seems highly unlikely that it will lead to the breakthroughs that we ideally would like. Furthermore, if senior EPSRC people are ultimately the ones to effectively decide what research should be done, why have they decided to become administrators rather than remaining active researchers. If they are this brilliant, they would never have willingly given up their research careers.
The other issue I have is that I don’t really feel that the taxpayers should be funding research that industry could be doing. If something is likely to return a profit in the short to medium term, then industry should be funding the research. The taxpayer should fund the research that we can’t reasonably expect industry to fund. It is this research that is very difficult to specify in advance. I’m not suggesting that research councils should never fund industrially relevant research, simply that research councils should tend to fund work that will have long-term benefits or that will have societal benefits that industry may not value as immediately valuable. I think EPSRC’s current policies are potentially extremely damaging and I hope they rethink them soon.