Capital Investment in Science and Research – BIS consultation

This a synopsis of the 120 page BIS consultation on Proposals for Long-Term Capital Investment in Science & Research “CREATING THE FUTURE: A 2020 VISION FOR SCIENCE & RESEARCH”. You can read the whole thing at http://bit.ly/1jNtqso or save time with the following summary with apologies in advance to those closer to the process than I. Responses due by 4 July to https://bisgovuk.citizenspace.com/digital/consultation-on-proposals-for-long-term-capital-in/consultation/intro/view

Objective

Input required on how to spend £5.9bn over 2016-2021. Total budget fixed, debate is on distribution between individual research project funding via research councils vs funding via higher Ed institutions vs major national and international projects.

Why – ask for input

Proposals for major projects already exceed £5bn of which ~£1bn already committed, vs a budget, after individual project funding of between £1.7 and £4.1bn, and that’s without any allowance for new major projects in future.

The choices and questions

Three scenarios proposed:-

Science & Research Capital Budget: 2016-21 – £5.9bn Scenario1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3
Funding through Research Councils at the individual research project level £2.1bn (£420m pa) £1.5bn (£300m pa) £1.0bn (£190m pa)
Funding through HE funding bodies at the institution level £2.1bn (£420m pa) £1.5bn (£300m pa) £0.7bn (£140m pa)
Funding for major projects (£985m committed already £1.7bn £2.9bn £4.1bn
Funding for new major projects £0.7bn £1.9bn £3.1bn

Debate boils down to which major projects to be in. Hence two main questions in consultation:-

  1. What balance should we strike between meeting capital requirements at the individual research project and institution level, relative to the need for large-scale investments at national and international levels
  2. How can we maximise collaboration, equipment sharing, and access to industry to ensure we make the most of this investment?

All other questions in consultation are subsidiaries of these two i.e:-

  1. What factors should we consider when determining the research capital requirement of the higher education estate?
  2. Should – subject to state aids and other considerations – science and research capital be extended to Research and Technology Organisations and Independent Research Organisations when there are wider benefits for doing so?
  3. What should be the UK’s priorities for large scale capital investments in the national interest, including where appropriate collaborating in international projects?
  4. What should the criteria for prioritising projects look like?
  5. Are there new potential high priority projects which are not identified in this document?
  6. Should we maintain a proportion of unallocated capital funding to respond to emerging priorities in the second half of this decade?
  7. Are the major international projects identified in the consultation the right priorities for this scale of investment at the international level? Are there other opportunities for UK involvement in major global collaborations?

What are new large scale projects are under consideration?

It’s a long list in following categories with some illustrative examples. Most have budgets 40- 200m per line item, exceptions noted. For brevity I have not included full list, available on page 54-57 of consultation at http://bit.ly/1jNtqso with further description in annex A pages 60 on.

  1. Big Data projects (>£1.9bn), 13 projects in total including:
    1. National e infrastructure
    2. Bridging Genotype to phenotype gap (£1.1bn!)
    3. From Big data to Medical insight and impact
    4. High-throughput Medical Research….
  2. Understanding the Universe projects (>£300m), 10 projects in total including
    1. European Space Agency Programme
    2. Space Data – Ground Stations and Analysis
    3. Space Data – Exploitation
    4. National Spaceport and Space Propulsion Facility
    5. TRUTHS – space-born system for radiometric calibration….
  3. Understanding our Planet projects (>375m): 3 projects total
    1. New polar research ship (commited)
    2. Environmental Observing Systems Research & Innovation Centre
    3. Jason – Continuing accurate sea level measurements….
  4. Understanding How Materials Behave projects (>£965m), 7 projects total including:-
    1. Eu spallation source (committed)
    2. Neutron capability
    3. Synchrotron capability
    4. Sapphire: UK Free Electron Laser
    5. Central Laser Facility
    6. Capabilities in next generation imaging technologies and High-throughput genomics and bioscience….
    7. Mid-range regional analysis facilities, including loan pools for lasers & engineering kit
  5. Grand Challenge projects (>£900m), 8 projects total, including:
    1. Energy and security innovation Centre
    2. Sustainability and resilience of national infrastructure
    3. Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak fusion project
    4. National Nuclear Users Facility
    5. Infrastructure to support industrial biotech innovation…..
    6. Innovative Production Processes (includes laser processing)
  6. Campus projects, (£1.3bn) 5 projects including
    1. Research Council Campus Development (£420m)
    2. Global Science Gateway – Harwell Oxford….(£400m)
  7. Public Engagement projects (£40m)
    1. Inspiring science
    2. Connecting research and communities…

I have no knowledge of the source of this list but within it there are some common themes. The total request for data projects over all categories is ~£2.2bn or 44% of major projects proposed, but includes no reference to research and development of required data handling / networking hardware. This may be a reflection of our times or a tendency to propose projects that fit the government’s eight great technologies.

There is also some potential overlap, or at least lack of differentiation to the non-expert around data projects in life science area.

Photonics is most explicit in the central laser facility, but will also play a part in many others especially I space but also in materials related projects.

Criteria for prioritisation

Proposed criteria are buried in Annex b2 page 96 as-

  • Affordability
  • Excellence – access to world-leading infrastructure, and funding proven centres of excellence
  • Impact- on the development and adoption of new technologies esp around 8 great techs
  • Skills – supply of early adopters of new tech trained in using best equipment
  • Efficiency and Leverage , increase research efficiency and attracting leveraged funding from others

Collboration, access and eligibility

There is discussion of the importance of equipment sharing and access to industry to make the best use of the capital investment budget. However there is less discussion of how this can be achieved – the consultation is clearly looking for idea. Notably measures for such are less clear in the individual major project summaries. If you feel this is important and have an idea about how it can be achieved or examples of best practice you should indicate so.

The consultation opens up the potential for independent research organisations to apply for capital funding. This may be relevant with the emergence of Fruanhofer in the UK and the like of TWI, if you think such organisation should or should not be able to access research capital indicate so.

Action

If you think there are worthy causes on this list, anything missing, areas that are over inflated please submit a response to the consultation at https://bisgovuk.citizenspace.com/digital/consultation-on-proposals-for-long-term-capital-in/consultation/intro/view
by 4 July.

We will prepare a top level response from the PLG, it may be difficult to address final question of prioritisation between the different projects.

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