Why Rethink UK Research Funding?


Many staff are detrimentally affected by the insecurity associated with short term funding and the poor prospects for career progression that are the norm in many academic research fields. In addition, staff employed by, or employing others on, short term funded research projects necessarily spend a good proportion of their time seeking further funding or considering what their career options will be when a project ends. This detracts from efforts to complete funded research and reduces efficiency and value for money.

A recent report by the Nuffield Council for Bioethics (http://nuffieldbioethics.org/project/research-culture/) outlined other worrying consequences of short term funding. In particular, their data suggest that the current system can foster an excessively competitive culture that may tempt researchers to act unethically (for example by falsifying results or exaggerating their significance) and specifically detrimentally affect the recruitment, retention and career progression of women.

These issues are the logical consequences of the short term culture that currently pervades in research and are not new, but are widely accepted to be worsening. Serious discussion of potential alternatives is now becoming mainstream, particularly in the USA (see http://www.pnas.org/content/111/16/5773 and http://embor.embopress.org/content/early/2014/01/07/embr.201338068). The aim of Rethinking UK Research Funding is to promote serious discussion and encourage lateral thinking about the way research is funded in the UK.

We recently held a full day event of discussion and debate, contributed to by leading stakeholders in the UK research community. There was a series of short presentations and panel discussions in the morning. One of our delegates has written an excellent blog summarizing his experience of the morning session.

In the afternoon delegates engaged in group work aimed at generating suggestions for improvements to the current system and alternative models. The themes we covered in the meeting were:

  • Research Integrity: Reproducibility, Ethics and Outcomes
  • Research Careers: Quality of Life and Sustainability
  • Research Funding: Improvements and Alternative Models