Scientific Infrastructure - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Chapter 3: Conclusions and Recommendations

Scientific Infrastructure: Planning and Governance

89.  Scientific infrastructure plays a vital role in underpinning the UK's research excellence and its translation into wealth creating outcomes. We recommend well planned, sustained and efficient future investment in scientific infrastructure in order to ensure that UK research is able to remain internationally competitive. It is imperative that a level of stable investment is achieved that keeps the UK at the forefront of science and technology. (paragraph 27)

90.  Efficient investment in scientific infrastructure requires long-term planning and clear and transparent decision making. We therefore recommend that the BIS Director General for Knowledge and Innovation (DGKI) is charged with the responsibility of producing a long term strategy and underpinning investment plan for scientific infrastructure. This should take a comprehensive view of scientific infrastructure needs across the UK, extending beyond the jurisdiction of the Research Councils, and including the needs of industry. It should set out clear investment priorities for the next ten to fifteen years, based on the budget available, and include an indicative plan for a longer time frame. It should be reviewed and updated at clearly defined intervals. The principle of awarding funding for scientific infrastructure on the basis of independent, expert scientific advice about the UK's relative position and the opportunities and benefits that could accrue must be upheld. (paragraph 28)

91.  We recommend that the BIS DGKI establishes a time-limited, ad hoc advisory group. This group should advise on the development of the long term strategy and underpinning investment plan, and on the response to other recommendations contained in this report, The membership of the group might include independent experts, HEFC, PSRE and Research Council Chief Executives, and representatives from industry and business. Independent experts on the advisory group might include, for example, representatives with a strong record in working on scientific infrastructure overseas. Recommendations for membership of the advisory group should be sought from the National Academies. The development of this strategy should include reviewing the Large Facilities Steering Group. The strategy and investment plan should be published within twelve months of the establishment of the advisory group. (paragraph 29)

Not just machines

92.  There is substantial evidence of a damaging disconnect between capital investment and the funding for operational costs. We recommend that the BIS Director General for Knowledge and Innovation, in the development of the strategy and an underpinning investment plan (paragraph 28), reviews the current situation to determine how capital investment and the funding for operational costs can be tied together in one sustainable package. (paragraph 39)

93.  We recommend that the training and other costs, as well as the value of the skilled workforce needed to operate scientific infrastructure, are fully taken into account in developing the strategy and an underpinning investment plan (paragraph 28). To maximise the return on investment, ways to facilitate viable career paths must be found. (paragraph 43)

Shared benefits

94.  We are concerned that the ability of Public Sector Research Establishments and National Laboratories to deliver national objectives is being eroded by underfunding and a wide variety of funding and governance models. PSREs are often custodians of data, expertise and mid-range facilities. We recommend that BIS Ministers ensure that the funding and governance mechanisms in place effectively protect the public goods generated by these institutions. (paragraph 50)

95.  There is evidence of some difficulties in the funding of mid-range scientific infrastructure. The establishment of university consortia and equipment sharing initiatives is a welcome step forward in terms of efficiency savings and improved access to mid-range infrastructure. We recommend that the Research Councils and HEFCE continue to support these initiatives, expand their scope where possible, and work with universities to find effective means for removing barriers and resolving administrative issues. The Research Councils and HEFCE should publish a regular report on progress with these initiatives. We note that such initiatives are also being undertaken in the devolved administrations and we invite the respective Higher Education Funding Councils to take similar steps where appropriate. (paragraph 61)

96.  We recommend that the scientific infrastructure strategy and underpinning investment plan (paragraph 28) take into account local and regional benefits, the importance of national and regional connectivity (real and virtual), and wider facilitation of access for users. (paragraph 64)

97.  The DGKI should commission a review of the costs and benefits of hosting European and international infrastructure in the UK and use this as an evidence base for the development of the strategy and an underpinning investment plan (paragraph 28). The investment plan should clearly set out the UK's ambitions, objectives and budget for involvement in European and international projects, and establish procedures and processes to ensure that that the UK can be engaged, proactive and well-coordinated, with a clear external face, within the EU and internationally. (paragraph 76)

98.  The strategy and underpinning investment plan for scientific infrastructure (paragraph 28) should include consideration of measures to encourage and facilitate further access to scientific infrastructure for industry. This should include reviewing the charges for access and improving the clarity of communication about charging. Consideration should also be given to how facilities can be encouraged to market infrastructure for external use more proactively. (paragraph 81)

99.  We congratulate the Government on the launch of their Research Partnership Investment Fund and their commitment to funding until 2016-17. We recommend that the Government take steps to extract maximum value from the scheme. To achieve this, the DGKI, in developing the strategy and an underpinning investment plan (paragraph 28), should review whether the scheme should be made more flexible and whether funding calls need to be open for longer to enable collaborative partnerships to be developed. (paragraph 85)

Monitoring and evaluation

100.  We recommend that all future funding of large and mid-range scientific infrastructure includes provision for an ongoing monitoring and evaluation mechanism to determine the impact and return on investment and provide an evidence base for future decision making. Monitoring and evaluation processes should be embedded from the point of investment and outcomes should be published and clearly communicated to industry, policy makers and the scientific community. (paragraph 88)

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