Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Medical Research Council
1. The Medical Research Council welcomed
the science White Paper, and in particular the emphasis on delivering
scientific "brain gain", whether through helping to
attract the best scientists from abroad to work in the UK, or
through encouraging a higher proportion of the best graduates
to enter scientific research training, and ensuring the quality
of that training.
2. At the time the new White Paper was published,
MRC already had in place a fast-track research funding scheme
to make it easier for universities and MRC units to bring researchers
from other countries to the UK. Three senior university appointments
in medial research have already been helped by use of the MRC
scheme, with up to a dozen more expected in the near future. We
expect that universities will use the MRC scheme to complement
the new funding for outstanding researchers announced in the White
3. MRC welcomed the provision of extra funding
for postgraduate research stipends, which will bring the basic
rate up to £9,000 in three years. At present, MRC pays considerably
more (£7,450 outside London and £9,900 in London) than
the basic research council rate, as we have long felt that, in
a competitive and fast moving area with a strong industrial R&D
sector, the basic rates were insufficient to attract high-calibre
graduates. A recent consultation with UK universities suggests
that even the new rates will not be seen as an attractive level
of support in the biomedical sector, and MRC will continue to
pay research students substantially more than the basic rate,
and will decide on the new level of MRC stipends next month.
4. MRC considers that it is also timely
to begin exploring alternatives to the established models of PhD
(or MRes + PhD) support, and have recently launched a new pilot
scheme for salaried pre-doctoral fellowships in MRC establishments.
The first awards will be taken up in Autumn 2001, and graduates
will be employed as salaried members of staff, with full contracts
of employment and employment benefits, on fixed term contracts.
The pilot will be carefully evaluated. We will be considering
not only the effectiveness of awards in attracting highly talented
individuals who might not otherwise have chosen a research career,
but also the potential to improve perceptions of careers in scientific
research by putting graduate research appointments on a par with
other graduate career options.
5. Our initial memorandum underlined how
partnerships between research funders had become a pervasive feature
of strategic planning since the 1993 White Paper.
As further examples, the past year has seen:
the establishment of the Cancer Research
Funders Forum, involving the Department of Health, MRC and the
main charities. The Forum has already commissioned a review (By
MRC) of prostate cancer research in the UK, and steps are already
being taken to strengthen this underdeveloped area of research.
The Forum has also helped pave the way for the new National Cancer
Research Institute, which will play a similar co-ordinating role.
the formation of a similar Funders
Forum for Ageing Research which not only brings together the Department
of Health and charities, but also BBSRC, ESRC and EPSRC, reflecting
the contribution of research in the social science, in non-medical
life sciences, and in engineering and IT, to the aim of extending
quality of life.
the allocation of funds in the Science
Budget to three priority themesgenomics, e-science and
basic technologyin which realising the UK's potential depends
on ensuring there are well funded, effectively managed strategies
co-ordinated across several, or all, research councils.
6. At an international level, MRC is also
involved in an ambitious initiative planned by the EC, to address
the three major diseases of povertyAIDS, TB and malaria.
The principal aim will be to bring new therapies quickly and efficiently
through from basic research to clinical application, in large
part through new public-private partnerships. MRC is liaising
closely with the Commission on the preliminary planning, and given
our research expertise in these areas, we anticipate playing a
major role in the initiative.
7. A copy of MRCS's press release responding
to the Science Budget announcement is attached,
and fuller plans for how MRC will use its funding and its links
with other funders, to take forward priority areas and training
will be published in March.
8. MRC welcomed the provision of a further
£1 billion for capital infrastructure in UK universities
and research council institutes. The Committee will be aware that
further details of how the new capital funding for universities
will be administered have been published since they heard evidence
in October. These arrangements will, we believe, significantly
reduce the administrative costs which universities and research
councils had to occur in the JIF scheme. As responsibility for
strategic direction is devolved to individual universities, the
approach depends on a strong commitment to co-ordination among
universities, and between universities and funders, to ensure
the provision of space and equipment reflects realistic assumptions
about future funding for research staff and programmes, and to
avoid competition between universities leading to over-provision.
MRC, along with other Research Councils is encouraging universities
to consult informally on their plans at an early stage.
30 Not printed. Back