Friday, 25 March 2011

ESRC Demand Management: This Time They're Serious

After the ESRC's messed up with its last consultation on 'demand management', which went off half cocked and was only sent out to one sleepy, post-Christmas academic and his dog, the Council is now trying to do it properly. It's issued a new consultation document, and is seeking responses by 16 June 2011.

To be fair to the ESRC, it has, in the interim, developed a more thorough and thoughtful document. Whereas the previous one was a relatively breezy eight pages, the current consultation document is a meaty 25 pages.

And this time they're serious.

They will be introducing an ‘initial programme of measures’, starting in June 2011, which will be a fairly light touch form of demand management. This includes:
  • Universities/individuals having to demonstrate that they are ‘looking at ways to improve self-regulation’.
  • Providing more ‘performance data’ to institutions;
  • Invited-only resubmissions;
  • Earlier ‘sifting’ of applications, and greater use of outline application processes.
They’ll review this after 12 months to see if it’s had any effect. Depending on this, they may look to introduce some further ‘demand management’. They suggest that this could be:
  • Researcher sanctions: limiting the number of applications from individuals who consistently fail to meet an agreed quality threshold – along the lines of the EPSRC’s ‘blacklisting’.
  • Institutional sanctions: limiting the number of applications from institutions which don’t meet an agreed quality threshold. This could take the form of limiting applications to 50% of the number submitted before, followed by a 12 month ban if quality hasn’t improved. Quality threshold may be at least 50% of applications Alpha rated or above each year.
  • Institutional quotas: institutions would be put into one of four quota ‘bands’, based on previous performance, and could be ‘promoted’ or ‘relegated’. The four bands would be: top ten, next twenty, next thirty, and all the rest.
  • Charging for applications: The ESRC is suggesting a maximum of £1k per application, refundable if the application passes a quality threshold.
More details of these proposals are available here.

It’s worth noting that it looks like demand management will come in for all Research Councils, that they’ll be some consistency between them, and that they will expect institutions to have their own peer review systems in place, as suggested on p8 of the document:

‘The Research Councils, where possible, will harmonise their demand management strategies. There is general agreement that HEIs should be encouraged to self regulate with a particular emphasis on structured peer review aimed at the submission of significantly fewer but better quality applications. This self regulation will be underpinned by the regular supply of performance data to institutions alongside better applicant guidance.’

As I said, the deadline for responses is 16 June 2011. You can respond using the form here. They will discuss proposals and announce the outcome in autumn 2011. Once they’ve reviewed the ‘initial programme of measures’, they’ll announce any new measure in October 2012.

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