Memorandum submitted by the Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council (RCUK 01)
ENGINEERING AND PHYSICAL SCIENCES RESEARCH
COUNCIL: ANNUAL REPORT AND ACCOUNTS 2008-09
Following your letter of 20 October regarding
our latest annual report, please find responses to your queries
1. In April 2008 EPSRC created a Business
Innovation Directorate to improve our awareness and connectivity
with user organisations and other key stakeholders. What arrangements
have been put in place to establish the needs of business and
what views has business conveyed to EPSRC about the effectiveness
of the arrangements and what changes has EPSRC made as a result?
Businesses engaged with us are very positive about
us and the advantages of our approach: our flexibility; the quality
of our processes and staff; and our knowledge of the academic
community are the most commonly cited benefits.
As part of the 2008 organisational restructuring
our user-facing sector teams were changed, as a result of feedback
from our key business contacts and other business sponsors. They
are now focused on eight priority sectors and on cross-cutting
themes of interest to more than one sector. We concentrate our
efforts on understanding users' research, training and other needs;
feeding these needs into EPSRC strategy and decision making; and
facilitating engagement between user organisations and academia.
Key to delivering these objectives is our Strategic
Partnership strategy, which focuses our engagement with around
45 user organisations. In 2008 we introduced an annual Strategic
Partners meeting to engage in dialogue with them on major issues
of mutual interest. As a result of the first event we developed
best practice regarding strategic partnerships and we are currently
carrying out an evaluation to ensure that these relationships
are delivering what users need. The findings and our response
will be presented at the second event in November.
The number of users in peer review has been
increased and we will be seeking to maintain this level of involvement
in our new "College" of peers from January 2010. We
have made our key business contacts more aware of forthcoming
collaborative activities by publishing a forward plan of Calls
for proposals and have recently started to send a copy of our
grant announcement letter to named collaborators on successful
proposals. These initiatives have received positive feedback.
As part of our Doctoral Training Awards, we
have set targets from October 2009 for 10% of the DTAs to be converted
to Industrial CASE Awards to encourage a higher level of collaboration
between the research base and business. In December 2008, we made
an investment of over £250 million to establish 44 new Centres
for Doctoral Trainingincluding 19 new Industrial Centres
for Doctoral Trainingwhich will provide over 2,000 new
PhD places over the next five years. We have also awarded some
280 Industrial CASE awards to business during 2009.
We also have our long standing User Panel (UP)
which provides high level strategic advice on research needs and
the value of our research and training programmes. UP members
are prominent individuals drawn from our user sectors, including
industry, commerce, government and education.
2. When will the operation of Knowledge Skills
Accounts be reviewed and evaluated?
Twelve EPSRC Knowledge Transfer (rather than
Skills) Accounts (KTA) and 13 EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Secondments
(KTS) grants started 1 October 2009. The KTAs will receive £44
million of funding over the next three years. The KTSs will receive
£11 million over the same period. EPSRC funding of these
will help to ensure that, where it produces results which might
benefit the UK economy and society, the research we fund is fully
exploited in a timely manner.
We will monitor the operation of the KTAs to ensure
that they maintain a clear focus on the scheme's aims. This will
be carried out within a framework which reflects the wide scope
of the KTAs' potential activities. While the difficulties of "measuring"
the impact of basic research are well-recorded, the KTAs will
be expected to monitor their performance against specific targets
where appropriate. Given the broad aims of the scheme we will
also be looking for deeper evidence of culture change in HEls
as well as a step-change in research exploitation.
As well as our regular attendance at management
or steering-group level meetings we will require reports containing
evidence of the KTA benefits. We expect the reports to emphasise
the outcomes of their funding, rather than just record the activities
As KTS grants will be used solely to support
secondments of researchers between user organisations and HEIs,
their reporting arrangements are simpler than those for the KTAs.
The grant holders will be expected to return a record of the secondments
they have supported. We will also be actively monitoring the outcomes
of the secondments, looking, for example, for case studies or
narratives which can demonstrate the value that UK businesses
place on their collaborations with UK HEIs.
3. The table on page 45 of the Annual Report
shows research grant proposals considered and funded. The success
rate shows a wide disparity in the success rates of fields of
research. The top three were healthcare, nanoscience and energy.
Why were these areas more successful than others? To what extent
did statements by ministers placing emphasis on areas such as
healthcare influence the Council's deliberations and assessments?
The figures in the table on page 45 of the Annual
report for energy, towards next generation healthcare and nanoscience
refer to highly managed programmes which usually have an outline,
expression of interest or other review stage before final proposals
are assessed. The earlier assessment stages are not included in
this data; this gives the impression of higher overall success
rates than for other programmes which generally fund grant proposals
through routes that do not involve initial review stages.
EPSRC, in common with all Research Councils, has
a Delivery Plan which incorporates strategic objectives and which
are agreed with Ministers after each spending review.
4. Why did the number of students supported
by Collaborative Schemes fall in 2009?
The numbers of students funded via Collaborative
Training Accounts (CTA)/CASE for New Academics are decreasing
as these schemes are ramping down with a consequent redistribution
of resources into KTAs, KTSs and the portfolio of new Centres
for Doctoral Training.
The portfolio of existing EngD Centres has been refreshed
and renewed during the course of 2009. Once these Centres are
fully up and running some 800 or so Research Engineers will be
The funding for Industrial CASE was flat in
the period 2006-08 which caused a slight dip in the numbers of
students in post each year due to the increase in the actual cost
of each studentship every year. However, additional funding was
made available in 2009-10 (approx. 18 more studentships made available
in 2009 than in 2008) so the numbers will rise again in subsequent
The Industrial CASE data for 2009 was also incomplete
at the time of publication. Due to the flexible nature of the
funding, students can be appointed over an extended period. A
reanalysis of the data shows that 612 industrial CASE students
were being supported as of 31 March 2009. In addition, a substantial
fraction of the Industrial CASE funding is allocated to larger
companies over a three year timeframe. Hence, there are year on
year variations in the precise number of students in post by 31
March each year.
The figures in question [from page 51 of the Annual
PhD STUDENTS SUPPORTED BY COLLABORATIVE SCHEMES
AT 31 MARCH 2007, 2008, 2009
|Collaborative Research Student (CTA)||164
|CASE for New Academics (CNA)||228
|Engineering DoctorateResearch Engineer
|Industrial CASE Student||666
The figures in italics take into account the reanalysis of the
Industrial CASE student data for 2009.
5. (a) At what percentage of its full capacity is
the HECToR being used? (b) If it were operating at full capacity,
what would be its revenue budget? (c) How much revenue support
does EPSRC provide to HECToR?
(a) The HECToR system, over the period January 2009 to
September 2009, has operated at a time averaged system utilization
of 60%. HECToR's Critical Success Factors (CSFs) is set between
60-75% of system usage, reflecting a need to effect an appropriate
level of utilization to produce a positive return on investment
(over other options explored) whilst ensuring acceptable turnaround
times for a varying and non-uniform workload (in number of jobs
and complexity respectively).
(b) Taking into account agreed changes in the staffing profile
over the contract duration, staffing levels are independent of
utilisation. The cost of the service staffing is approximately
£4 million per annum (excluding VAT) which supports 20 FTE
The only variable service cost related to utilisation is
the electricity which is approximately £1.2 million per annum
(excluding VAT) when operating at full capacity. Even so, this
has been shown to vary marginally with respect to percentage utility
even outside of the CSF levels given above. This item is affected
more by how individual jobs stress the system and seasonal variation
effecting system cooling overheads.
The overall annual operational cost is approximately £5.2
million (excluding VAT).
(c) EPSRC provides 73% of all operating costs for HECToR,
NERC supports 22% and BBSRC supports 5%. Capital funding is provided
by the Councils alongside a contribution from the Large Facilities
6. What problems have Programme Assurance Visits identified
in 2008-09 and 2009-10?
Programme Assurance Visits are a cross-council activity.
In order not to duplicate information, BBSRC will provide a response
to this question on behalf of all the research councils.
7. Why did the number of staff increase between 2007-08
There was an increase of 11 in the average number of staff employed
by EPSRC between 2008 and 2009. The increases were principally
in the RCUK Strategy Unit, hosted by EPSRC, where responsibility
for the Science in Society team (approximately six people) transferred
from ESRC during the year, in Research Council staff working in
the project team implementing the Shared Services Centre (an increase
of two) where EPSRC is also the host on behalf of all Councils,
and the creation of an RCUK Office in Washington (two people).
8. What proportion of invoices in September was paid within
The total number of commercial invoices paid in September 2009
was 579. The proportion of invoices in this month paid within
10 days is 50.9%.
9. The Committee requests a note setting out the level
of End Year Flexibility the Council could call upon at the start
of the year 2008-09, the amount drawn down during the year and
the balance carried forward at the end of the year.
| Revised EYF 1 April 2008||-0.661
|2008-09 adjusted published allocations
|2008-09 provisional outturn||770.444
|EYF 1 April 2009||20.952
10. The Committee requests a note on EPSRC's public engagement
activities in synthetic biology (jointly carried out with BBSRC)
Please find a note attached.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
SYNTHETIC BIOLOGYPUBLIC DIALOGUE
Doug Kell (CEO of BBSRC) and I both agreed that while the
area of synthetic biology has great potential to influence, shape
and dominate a wide range of research areas in the future it also
has the potential to raise some major ethical and societal issues.
We also recognised that, at present, synthetic biology is not
yet clearly understood or accepted in the public consciousness.
Indeed the science is still very much in its infancy (certainly
in the UK). This therefore provided a unique opportunity to begin
a dialogue process with the public in parallel as a new and exciting
area of science emerges. It is hoped that by engaging the public
early in this way we can avoid some of the problems and issues
encountered by the GM debate where the public entered into the
debate too late. We therefore concluded that the timing was right
for both of our research councils to work together, in conjunction
with other interested parties, in taking forward a substantive
public dialogue exercise.
EPSRC and BBSRC, with joint funding from Sciencewise Expert Resource
Centre, have now commissioned the British Market Research Bureau
(BMRB) to conduct such a public dialogue. This dialogue will help
frame the issues and promote discussion. This will help the Research
Councils and others to ensure that future policies better reflect
the views, concerns and aspirations of the public. We regard this
as being the start and the basis for an ongoing public engagement
process involving not just the research councils.
The dialogue will begin shortly and is expected to report its
outcomes during the summer 2010.
The aims and objectives of the dialogue are as follows:
To allow the diverse perspectives of a range of UK residents
to be articulated clearly and in public in order that future policies
can better reflect these views, concerns and aspirations.
Facilitate discussions from diverse perspectives,
which are undertaken by people who are inclusive of a range of
people in society. Support a diversity of key stakeholders
and people with relevant knowledge (eg industrial, regulatory,
NGOs, civil society) to oversee the dialogue to ensure its fairness,
competence and impact.
Draw on and seek participation of a diversity of knowledges
by working with a wide range of groups, including researchers,
research council staff, social scientists and NGOs with an interest
in issues related to technology options and/or synthetic biology.
Ensure that the content and format of the dialogues
are open to influence by all of the participants.
Allow institutional learning about dialogue processes,
including the diversity of views, aspirations and attitudes that
exist with reference to scientific, economic and social policy
and economic aspects of new technologies.
Develop a capacity amongst all of the participants
for further dialogues in the future and seek views about priority
areas/issues which would merit further substantive dialogue, debate
Improve on what is seen as good practice and thus
provide a foundation on which:
broader future engagement can build and inform the
development of a longer term project of engagement.
Raise awareness and capacity within the Research Councils,
policy makers and the scientific community of aspirations, concerns
and views in relation to synthetic biology and the importance
Ensure that participants in the dialogue have a meaningful
route to potentially influence policy makers and thus feel their
involvement has been worthwhile.
Devise novel ways of dealing with an area of technological
development in which very few specific details are known.