24. The evidence we received confirmed that the CCLRC's
facilities are held in high regard by users and in many instances
are world leading. One otherwise critical witness referred to
excellent neutron, x-ray, muon and laser facilities which are
"amongst the leading facilities in the world", for which
"CCLRC should be congratulated".
The Royal Academy of Engineering commented on the international
respect for the facilities. It reported that users were pleased
with support services there and found staff were "customer-orientated".
We found nothing but praise for the professionalism and dedication
of the staff operating facilities at the CCLRC and we have seen
for ourselves some of the facilities at RAL and other sites. We
commend the CCLRC for its work in maintaining world class facilities
and in matching this standard in the provision of technical and
other support services.
25. The quality of the facilities is reflected in
levels of demand for their use. Most of the CCLRC facilities are
oversubscribed, some by a factor of four, but most by less than
two. Eight of 50 instruments are undersubscribed, five seriously
so. There may be
a fall in demand for some facilities as they reach the end of
their working lives, or new technologies supercede them or if
alternative facilities become accessible abroad. The CCLRC explained
that "The demand for individual instruments is variable and
dependent on the growth stage of a particular science area
A low demand figure does not necessarily mean that an instrument
is not world leading, but could reflect that a particular area
is new and in early growth stages".
Overall, levels of demand for most instruments appear to be healthy.
The CCLRC reported that demand "remains strong though not
excessive, which is almost certainly due to a degree of self-regulation
by the research community".
It explained that experienced users were aware of the popularity
of certain instruments and were able to collaborate with others
in order maximise their chances of success. Less experienced potential
users are left to apply in the dark as no statistics are currently
published on subscription rates. We recommend that the CCLRC
publish statistics on subscription rates for its instruments on
an annual basis.
26. In cases where instruments are under-subscribed,
Facility Directors consult with stakeholders before decisions
are taken on whether to significantly change or replace the instrument.
In considering whether to close down instruments, consideration
is given to overall levels of demand, user feedback and the cost
of re-configuration set against the projected scientific return
on investment. Decisions
relating to the closure of entire facilities would only be taken
after thorough consultation with the research community, Research
Councils and OST.
27. It is not possible to examine success rates in
terms of applications for use of CCLRC facilities in the same
way as grant applications to other Research Councils. The applications
of many researchers are technically successful in winning some
time, but not as much as they applied for. Figures provided by
the CCLRC indicating apparently very high success ratesgenerally
upwards of 70%are therefore not very informative and potentially
28. In evidence, we received complaints that demand
from UK researchers for time on facilities was suffering from
a lack of project funding from Research Councils.
It is not surprising that there is not enough funding available
to support all the research on CCLRC facilities that the UK research
community would like to carry out. It is healthy for demand to
exceed the supply of funding for the CCLRC just as it is for other
Research Council grants. We suspect that the complaints we have
heard reflect this reality. Mr Schildt told us that overall, "we
are not noticing a reduction in the total demand and the quality
of that demand from the United Kingdom science community".
Without meaningful figures, useful analysis of the changing patterns
of demand for facilities is impossible. Although it is not possible
to determine accurately by what factor, it is clear that demand
for Research Council funding for projects involving time on CCLRC
facilities exceeds supply. In order to better inform the user
community and to improve its own strategic planning and liaison
with other Research Councils, we recommend that the CCLRC develop
broad but meaningful indicators of success rates for applications
for time on facilities.
Availability to UK researchers
29. The CCLRC runs facilities for the benefit of
UK and international researchers. The criteria for assessing applications
from UK and EU researchers under the EU framework programmes are
the same: UK researchers compete for access directly with their
European counterparts. Applications from other international researchers
are also peer reviewed alongside all other proposals. We heard
some concerns that, due to a lack of funding from UK Research
Councils, CCLRC facilities were increasingly being used by foreign
researchers. The Institute of Physics (IoP) reports that researchers
are finding it difficult to obtain enough support to exploit the
excellent facilities provided by the CCLRC, and that the proportion
of experiments being performed at ISIS by UK academic researchers
has decreased over the past few years. The IoP argues that unless
funding increases "high quality national facilities [will
be] increasingly unavailable to scientists in UK universities."
Professor Cowley from Oxford University points to difficulties
in obtaining funding from other research councils to permit use
of the CCLRC facilities and expresses concern that unless there
is a change in funding policy "we shall build excellent new
facilities only for them to be largely used for research and training
of scientists from overseas."
There have been other reports that researchers are finding it
increasingly hard to cover the cost of research using CCLRC facilities.
In order to test these claims, we obtained from CCLRC some statistics
on user profiles for its major facilities. These are set out in
tables 3 to 7 below.TABLE
3 Usage of Central Laser Facility - VULCAN