Thursday, 16 June 2011

Changes to the ESRC - Part 2

Last week I wrote about imminent changes to the ESRC funding schemes. Yesterday I went along to their regional event at Brighton, and got further clarification and detail about how they see these changes being implemented:
  • Risky research. As mentioned before, they will be introducing a new mechanism into their grants scheme for risky research, with a 'breakpoint' mid way through at which the success or otherwise of the pilot project will be assessed. However, they made it clear that, in effect, this would mean the reintroduction of the small grants scheme, but with a very specific remit of encouraging risky, innovative, ambitious research.
  • Advanced Sifting. As well as outline applications, the ESRC would introduce 'advanced sifting' of their Research Grants. In practice, this would mean that applications go through an initial peer review by 2-3 academics. If it's an application for a small amount, this might be all the assessment it gets: depending on the outcome, the application will get funded or rejected. If it's for a larger amount, this peer review will decide whether the application goes to full panel.
  • Outline Applications. The ESRC will simplify the JeS form for outline applications, including the costing element. They will shortlist approximately three times as many applications as they can fund, so that the success rate for the second stage (full applications) will be around 33%.
  • Right to Reply. A right to reply would be built into all their funding schemes.
  • Demand Management. The deadline for the consultation process on the demand management options closed on 16 June. They will now consider the responses. It is hoped that they will not have to introduce any of the more draconian measures. They will allow a year to see how the 'interim measures' have worked - eg outline applications, no uninvited resubmissions, encouraging HEIs to implement 'quality assurance' procedures. They admitted that a year might not be enough for these to have a real effect, but it should be enough to see the 'direction of travel'. If they are happy with the 'direction', they will allow more time for them to have further effect.
  • Statistics. To support the demand management measures, the ESRC will provide HEIs with stats on their comparative performance. These will be provided three times a year and, it is hoped, they will be more nuanced than just presenting simple success rates. For example, they should show the relative position of an institution's applications in the peer review panel's prioritisation list, so that HEIs can get a sense of the quality of their applications.
  • Working with the Other Research Councils. The ESRC made clear that they will be working with their sister councils to implement a common form of demand management. Of course, this will have to allow for variance that arises from the culture and patterns of those working within a council's disciplines. Thus, what works for the EPSRC wouldn't necessarily work for the ESRC. However, as far as possible they hoped for a consistency across RCUK.

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