Select Committee on Science and Technology Ninth Report

5  Involvement of other organisations

97. There are many different routes through which researchers can apply for funding for international collaborations, and in addition to Research Council or government schemes, there are programmes run by organisations such as the British Council, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The importance of the work undertaken by the British Council and the Royal Society, in particular, in funding international research is recognised by their participation in GSIF.

British Council

98. The British Council is a Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by the FCO. It runs science programmes in 70 countries around the world, with an annual expenditure of £8 million.[185] It supports a number of awards schemes as outlined in Table 5.

Table 5: British Council Activities (2006)

Scheme/Programme Description/Objective Approx annual Funding
International Networking for Young Scientists Bilateral and multilateral N+N seminars and workshops for the exchange of information, knowledge and ideas between early stage researchers and formation of collaborative links. Global coverage delivered by BC with matched funding from national partners. £ 250 k
Partnership Programme Bilateral, co-financed programmes promoting links and contacts between higher education research institutions and laboratories in the UK and Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Turkey, Cuba, Greece, India, and Slovenia. Delivered by BC with matched funding from national governments. £517 k
Researcher Exchange Programme Individual awards providing money for travel and subsistence to enable early stage researchers to spend 2 week - 3 month periods in foreign laboratories (inward to and outward from UK) in order to make international connections. Global coverage. £500 k
Network UKPersonal assistance and advice provided to EU/Global researchers planning to move to the UK for a period of work. It comprises a mobility portal and helpdesk at the national level supported by 12 mobility centres located around the UK, aimed at removing the barriers to mobility. Co-financed by EC (under FP6) and OSI, and delivered by BC. £ 91 k

Source: GSIF, Strategy for international engagement in research and development, p 56-57

99. The British Council also runs resources such as the Support for International Science, Technology and Engineering Research (SISTER) programme, which is a funding route map for UK researchers, postgraduates and international students seeking funding for international collaboration in science and technology. It was created for British Council Science, the OSI, the Royal Society, and UK Trade and Investment.

100. The British Council and the Research Councils focus on different outcomes. Dr Lloyd Anderson from the British Council explained to us that "the Research Councils are saying what can international relations do for the UK research base, whereas I would say that philosophy behind the British Council is what can the UK research base do for international relations, it is the other way round."[186] This different outlook means that direct overlap between British Council and Research Council schemes is unlikely, although it does not prevent them from working together. The British Council indicated that it would welcome more interaction with the Research Councils. It said that the Research Councils have "always been supportive of British Council initiatives, but there have been no major joint activities. This may reflect an earlier 'wealth creation in UK' stance, or the different audience segments that the Research Councils and British Council individually seek to reach."[187] In relation to Network UK, the British Council states that "The Research Councils have chosen not to undertake active promotion, or to utilise the mobility portal; actions that have been left to the HE sector."[188]

Royal Society

101. The Royal Society supports a number of schemes to promote international collaboration and partnership, including international joint projects, short visits to and from the UK, fellowships to the UK from Asia, fellowships to the UK from the USA, and conference grants. It is also responsible for running networking schemes for the OSI (now DIUS).[189]

Table 6: Royal Society International Activities (2006)

Scheme/programme Description/objective Approx annual funding
Conference grantsProvide assistance to UK scientists attending conferences in any overseas country. Global coverage. £6.4 m
Short visits grants Available for scientists to undertake visits (either by UK scientists overseas, or by overseas scientists to the UK) for periods of between one week and three months; these are intended to assist in initiating one-to-one collaboration and exploring opportunities. Funding is for travel and subsistence, and in some instances costs are shared with partner organisations "in-country". Global coverage.
Joint projectsProvide mobility grants for bi-lateral research projects between a UK research group. Funds available cover the costs of a series of visits between the two groups over a period of two to three years. Covers Europe, South America, South East Asia, China, India, and parts of Africa and Latin America.
Incoming fellowships for postdoctoral scientists The Society also offers incoming fellowships for postdoctoral scientists undertaking a research project with a named host in a UK research organisation. Covers India, China, and South East Asia for 6-12 months and US and Canada for 12 to 36 months.
ERA COREACH ERANET on European research collaboration with China This network is intended to create coherence and synergy in Europe's S&T relations with China. Covers Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, Austria, Norway, Finland, Ireland, Hungary. Delivered by RS (and British Academy) on behalf. £50 k

(£250 k over 5 years)

International Science and Science Policy Organisations Collaboration with the international scientific community through support of the International Council for Science (ICSU), Inter Academy Panel and Council (IAP/IAC), International Scientific Unions, the International Seismological Centre, European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), European Science Exchange Programme (ESEP) and Academia Europaea. Global coverage delivered by RS for UK. £ 750 k

Source: GSIF, Strategy for international engagement in research and development, p 55

102. The Royal Society receives its funding from three sources: Parliamentary grant in aid from OSI (now DIUS), private foundations/individuals/corporate organisations, and its endowment. Dr Bernie Jones explained to us that "the biggest chunk is the Parliamentary grant in aid, the money that we receive from OSI and then hand out to fund excellent UK scientists and international scientific collaborations."[190]

103. The Royal Society says that it brings "credibility and experience" to running grant schemes.[191] We have been told by the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre at University College London that small schemes such as those run by the Royal Society are "unbureaucratic and seen to work efficiently".[192] The University of Sheffield says that the work of the Royal Society and other trusts is "much more well known" than that of the Research Councils in facilitating international research.[193]

Co-ordination between organisations

104. We are not convinced that there is sufficient co-ordination between the organisations working to fund international research or that a good working relationship exists between them. The Royal Society has been very critical of the Research Councils (paragraph 20), whilst RCUK's written submission does not mention the work of the Royal Society or British Council.[194] Co-ordination and communication is essential in order to avoid overlap between similar schemes, particularly between the Royal Society and the Research Councils. Dr Jones from the Royal Society told us that the potential for overlap was "something that we are very conscious of."[195] Professor Ian Diamond, Chair of RCUK, told us that "we do not want to end up doing things in duplication".[196] Both witnesses said that actions were being taken in order to improve co-ordination. Professor Diamond said that Dr Ian Cox, Executive Secretary of the Royal Society, had been invited to RCUK to talk about respective forward strategies and how they align.[197] Dr Jones said that that there was informal and formal contact at a number of different levels between the organisations. He noted that in view of the increasing international initiatives by the Royal Academy of Engineering, he was intending to set up a regular meeting between the international heads of the various academies in the UK.[198] We believe that relations between the Research Councils, the Royal Society, British Council and others could be improved further. We recommend that the RCUK international team take steps to improve co-ordination and communication with the Royal Society, British Council and others, seeking advice and adopting models of best practice where appropriate.

105. As highlighted by the Royal Society, there is no formal mechanism to ensure that there is no overlap between the schemes offered by the Research Councils, Learned Societies and other bodies.[199] Furthermore, it is not clear which organisation should take responsibility for promoting co-ordination. We believe that DIUS, the source of funding for several of these bodies, would be best placed to encourage organisations to co-ordinate their schemes to ensure minimal overlap and duplication. Its activities would complement those of GSIF, which focuses primarily upon co-ordinating cross-Government activities. We recommend that the Science and Innovation Group within DIUS become a hub for co-ordinating the international activities and policies of the Research Councils, Learned Societies, charities and others. We recommend that DIUS work with relevant organisations using resources such as the British Council Support for International Science, Technology and Engineering Research portal to ensure that there is minimal overlap between schemes encouraging the development of international links.

185   Ev 160 Back

186   Q 180 Back

187   Ev 159 Back

188   Ev 160 Back

189   Ev 61 Back

190   Q 208 Back

191   Ev 61 Back

192   Ev 44 Back

193   Ev 59 Back

194   Ev 89 Back

195   Q 201  Back

196   Q 37 Back

197   Q 37 Back

198   Q 205 Back

199   As above. Back

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