Select Committee on Science and Technology Ninth Report


Conclusions and recommendations


Measurements of success

1.  We believe that it is important for the UK to be able to assess its position and measure its success with regard to international collaboration and international research relationships. We recommend that the Research Councils and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills work together to develop common mechanisms for the systematic collection of data on international collaborations and to develop ways of assessing their performance in this field. (Paragraph 15)

Current activities

2.  We acknowledge the diversity of schemes across the Research Councils and encourage the Councils to share best practice. (Paragraph 17)

Strategy

3.  We welcome the development of the international strategies and recommend that individual Councils review their strategies in the light of the new RCUK strategy. (Paragraph 24)

Co-ordination

4.  We are concerned that the Research Councils' activities and policies are not sufficiently co-ordinated either internally or with one another. RCUK should drive cross-Council co-ordination and ensure that the Research Councils' activities and policies are well aligned. We recommend that RCUK review its next steps to improve the co-ordination of activities beyond the creation of its strategy and establishment of the international team. (Paragraph 28)

Visibility

5.  We are concerned that the Councils' activities are not widely known about in the research community and recommend that the Councils develop ways of improving the visibility of their schemes and disseminating information to the research community. (Paragraph 32)

International offices

6.  We welcome the establishment of more RCUK offices abroad. These offices should present a coherent picture of UK science and be worthwhile contact points for international collaborators. We recommend that RCUK clarify how these offices will be funded, how their performance will be monitored and how their activities will be reported. (Paragraph 38)

Funding

7.  We welcome agreements made to reduce double jeopardy but encourage further work in this area, including increasing the number of joint calls with other institutions. (Paragraph 43)

8.  STFC's use of rolling grants to fund travel without the need for separate applications should be considered by the other Councils as an example of best practice. (Paragraph 45)

9.  The RCUK should clarify the reasons why the Research Councils are engaged in international collaborations. It should outline when and why the Research Councils should provide strategic or follow-on funding and how such funding relates to their aim of funding the best science. (Paragraph 49)

10.  The majority of funding for international activities is embedded within Research Council budgets. We recommend that the Research Councils increase the flexibility of funding within their general budgets for international activities and simplify the process for cross-Council funding and long-term funding for international work. We believe that the benefits of a dedicated funding stream for international activities such as travel grants and visiting fellowships outweigh the potential drawbacks. We recommend that the Research Councils establish a small central fund for travel grants and visiting fellowships to be administered by RCUK using simple application methods. (Paragraph 55)

Impact of strategy on mobility and research careers

11.  We encourage the Councils to expand the study of the extent to which PhD students and researchers in the UK work abroad to explore the reasons underpinning the decisions of researchers to work abroad or stay in the UK and to alter their policies accordingly. It is necessary, for the health of the research base, and to comply with the new positive duty for public authorities to promote gender equality, for the Research Councils and the Government to understand the barriers that women in research face and take such steps as are necessary to ensure they are overcome. (Paragraph 64)

12.  We are concerned that Research Council schemes to improve mobility are not working well. This may be because they are not sufficiently visible or because they fail to address the challenges faced by researchers such as familiarity with foreign languages and family commitments. We recommend that RCUK, monitored by the Director General of Science and Innovation, consult stakeholders on how policies relating to mobility could be improved. (Paragraph 66)

Government initiatives

13.  We welcome the Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF) but emphasise that it needs to increase its visibility, publicise itself and prove its worth. We recommend that GSIF's performance be monitored by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser's Office in DIUS. (Paragraph 74)

14.  We welcome the FCO's Science and Innovation Network. We recommend that the Research Councils and FCO continue to work to improve co-ordination. The FCO should play a stronger role in the delivery of the Research Councils' international policies providing in-country assistance and advice when necessary. (Paragraph 80)

15.  We welcome DFID's collaborative programmes with the Research Councils. DFID and the Councils should confirm how they intend to measure the success of these programmes. We recommend that RCUK monitor the schemes and if appropriate, encourage further collaboration in the area of international development. Paragraph 83)

16.  We welcome the work that has been done by OSI in developing partnerships with other countries. We are concerned, however, that the UK's position as a desirable international partner is slipping and that the Government is working within an increasingly competitive international environment. DIUS needs to ensure that relationships with other countries are exploited at all levels from Government to Government to researcher to researcher. (Paragraph 95)

17.  There is a failure properly to follow up schemes, initiatives and visits. We believe that ensuring appropriate follow up to Government initiatives will require more funding as well as an improved strategy. We recommend that DIUS invest more money in developing partnerships and work with the Research Councils and Academies to ensure consistent follow-up to its work, particularly the Years of Science initiative. (Paragraph 96)

Co-ordination between organisations

18.  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. (Paragraph 104)

19.  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. (Paragraph 105)

Overview

20.  We believe that the Research Councils could improve their support for researchers applying for European funding. We are concerned that European programmes are less attractive to UK researchers because the programmes have a reputation for bureaucracy and are unlikely to cover the full economic costs of research. DIUS should work with the Research Councils to advertise the improvements in Framework Programme 7 to reduce bureaucracy and speed up processes. DIUS, Research Councils, HEFCE and universities should work together to devise a solution to cover the shortfall between Framework Programme 7 funding and the full economic costs of research. (Paragraph 116)


 
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