Letter to EPSRC on Shaping Capability funding programme

22 August 2011

The following letter was sent from RSC President Professor David Phillips to Professor David Delpy, EPSRC chief executive, last week.

Dear David,

EPSRC Shaping Capability programme

I am writing to outline the RSC's concerns about the EPSRC's Shaping Capability programme.

While the settlement for science in the Comprehensive Spending Review was better than for many other areas of government spending, flat cash funding still presents significant challenges.

We understand the difficult decisions that currently face EPSRC, with the need to make 12-15% savings over the next three years. As a representative voice in science, RSC wants to work constructively with EPSRC to help inform the best possible decisions under challenging circumstances.

Earlier this year, your colleagues came to our Science, Education and Industry Board, and presented their overall approach. Specific funding details were not shared at this point and, by our understanding of the term, we were not consulted. 

For RSC, consultation means a two-way exchange, based on full information which is transparently available, with an opportunity to affect the final decision. For us, there is a stark difference between being asked to comment on a partial picture of decisions already made, and being given an appropriate opportunity to understand EPSRC's full strategic proposals, to give views about their possible impact, and to help shape the outcome.

We welcome the EPSRC's town hall meeting for physical sciences, which has now been scheduled for 26 September, although we would have appreciated a meeting of this kind earlier in the process and before the funding approach for 29 areas was outlined last month.

These are our concerns, which we would like to see addressed at this meeting:

  1. What evidence has EPSRC used to identify synthetic organic chemistry for reduced funding and will this be shared at the meeting? What will be reduced and by what mechanism will reductions be achieved?
  2. Given that EPSRC already has evidence of the value of synthetic organic chemistry and studentships (Chemistry for the Next Decade and Beyond International Review of UK Chemistry Research 2009, Synthetic Chemistry Studentship Research Review 2007), specifically what evidence do you need from RSC and other learned societies in order to affect the decisions in the 2nd and 3rd waves of funding priorities? 
  3. What decisions have already been made in the remaining funding areas?
  4. Given the drop in studentships from 2,902 in 2010-11 to 1,900 in 2011-12, how does EPSRC plan to continue to meet its Royal Charter objectives (i) to promote and support [...] research and related post-graduate training in engineering and the physical sciences and (ii) to [.....] provide trained scientists and engineers [...] thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of Our United Kingdom and the quality of life?
  5. How do you plan to address our concerns, and those of our community, about the consultation process for Shaping Capability so far?

    We've felt for some time that the chemistry community needs to shape its own vision for the future. That's why we initiated our Chemistry Landscape project. We are conducting a wide-ranging consultation of academics, industrialists, education specialists, policymakers and others, covering four key areas: industry and university collaboration; higher education and research capability; schools and further education colleges; scientific literacy. 

    We hope to have initial findings to share with you on 26 September. Our community will be looking to EPSRC to take this evidence on board, and for it to visibly and transparently inform the next waves of funding priorities.

    I hope you can address these points before the town hall meeting, so that I may give some much needed reassurance to our community. 

    Yours sincerely,

    David Phillips
    President, Royal Society of Chemistry

Related Links

Link icon Chemical & Engineering News article on EPSRC funding
The UK's main funding body angers researchers over budget-tightening policies

Link icon David Phillips talks to Research Fortnight about the future of chemistry
We must shout louder, says David Phillips

Link icon David Phillips on EPSRC funding in the Guardian
Chemistry cuts will do irreparable damage, top scientists warn

Link icon Chemistry Landscape
The home of the Chemistry Landscape on MyRSC

Chemists have been left fuming at the EPSRC's funding decisions

Martyn Poliakoff explains why chemists are angry at the EPSRC

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