IOP responds to EPSRC's announcement on shaping capability

28 March 2012

Institute of Physics News

Commenting on today’s announcement by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of Tranche 3 of their “Shaping our Portfolio” initiative, Institute of Physics President Professor Sir Peter Knight said: “While we appreciate EPSRC’s efforts to meet the concerns of the science community, we remain concerned about the rationale for some of the individual decisions made and about the long-term impact on this country’s research base, which will only become clear when we have seen how EPSRC’s new system works in practice.

“We welcome the restatement of EPSRC’s commitment to peer review, and to the principle that research quality remains pre-eminent in assessing applications from researchers for grant funding. 

“We also appreciate the fact that EPSRC took the time to consult more widely with key researchers, including those nominated by IOP.

“However, we are concerned about EPSRC’s assessment that two research areas where the UK has real strengths – surface science and mathematical physics – should be allocated to the “reduce” category despite the advice of identified experts.  It is worth noting that surface science is an area of interdisciplinary research, often the most fertile source of new scientific breakthroughs; and that mathematical physics was the only area rated as “excellent” in terms of international profile in EPSRC’s own 2010 review of mathematical sciences.

“EPSRC’s announcement suggests that alternative sources of funding may be available for researchers working in these areas, but it is not clear that this will be the case. We will be raising these issues in discussion with EPSRC, to gain a better understanding of how alternative sources of funding may be accessed.

“More generally, we are still not clear how the categorisation of research areas will feed through in practice into the funding process if – as EPSRC has assured us – research excellence remains paramount.  The real test of the changes which EPSRC is introducing will be their impact on this country’s science base, which is widely recognised to have thrived under EPSRC’s previous funding system.  We will be monitoring the outcome closely over the next funding rounds.”