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December 18, 2014

REF 2014: Results and preliminary analysis

by Craig Nicholson

The map of British research is being redrawn.

Money is sliding rapidly towards elite institutions in the south east of England - and away from almost everywhere else. Although Oxford and Cambridge have done well, the biggest winner is the third apex of the Golden Triangle: four top institutions in London.

On this page you will find Research Fortnight's initial coverage of the REF results as well as our detailed league tables.

Subscribers to www.researchprofessional.com have access to rolling news and analysis plus a downloadable spreadsheet where they can perform their own calculations


REF supplement to the print edition of Research Fortnight

Here is the full PDF of our 20-page print supplement, with headline results as well as initial analysis and opinion: supplement.


League table

And here is Research Fortnight's main league table in full, with institutions ranked by RF's Power Ratings: League table, part 1; League table, part 2.


Unit of assessment tables

Here are our tables for the 36 different units of assessment.


Panel A

Unit 1: Clinical Medicine (Table)

Unit 2: Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care (Table)

Unit 3: Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy (Table)

Unit 4: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience (Table)

Unit 5: Biological Sciences (Table)

Unit 6: Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science (Table)


Panel B

Unit 7: Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences (Table)

Unit 8: Chemistry (Table)

Unit 9: Physics (Table)

Unit 10: Mathematical Sciences (Table)

Unit 11: Computer Science and Informatics (Table)

Unit 12: Aeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering (Table)

Unit 13: Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials (Table)

Unit 14: Civil and Construction Engineering (Table)

Unit 15: General Engineering (Table)


Panel C

Unit 16: Architecture, Built Environment and Planning (Table)

Unit 17: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology (Table)

Unit 18: Economics and Econometrics (Table)

Unit 19: Business and Management Studies (Table)

Unit 20: Law (Table)

Unit 21: Politics and International Studies (Table)

Unit 22: Social Work and Social Policy (Table)

Unit 23: Sociology (Table)

Unit 24: Anthropology and Development Studies (Table)

Unit 25: Education (Table)

Unit 26: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism (Table)


Panel D

Unit 27: Area Studies (Table)

Unit 28: Modern Languages and Linguistics (Table)

Unit 29: English Language and Literature (Table)

Unit 30: History (Table)

Unit 31: Classics (Table)

Unit 32: Philosophy (Table)

Unit 33: Theology and Religious Studies (Table)

Unit 34: Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory (Table)

Unit 35: Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts (Table)

Unit 36: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management (Table)

November 07, 2014

Horizon 2020: The next phase

by Laura Greenhalgh

The European Commission is well into the planning phase for the next two years of Horizon 2020. Laura Greenhalgh brings you her analysis of the preliminary outlines of the 2016-17 work programmes.

Whilst pillar one remains relatively similar to 2014-15, many areas under pillars two and three have a change in priorities, including three new focus areas (see article in Research Europe). The plans are still to be finalised into official work programmes, but they give a good indication of where Horizon 2020 is heading. Here’s what’s in store!


Pillar 1 – Excellent Science

European Research Council

Future and Emerging Technologies

Marie Skłowdowska-Curie Actions

Research infrastructure

Pillar II – Industrial Leadership

Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies - ICT

Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies - Nanotech, materials and processing

Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies - Space

Access to Risk Finance Innovation in SMEs 

Pillar III - Societal Challenges

Health, demographic change and wellbeing

Food security and maritime

Secure, clean and efficient energy

Smart, green and integrated transport

Climate action, resources and raw materials

Inclusive societies

Secure societies


European Research Council – tbc

The ERC is not covered under the Commission’s strategic planning exercise, since its agenda is established separately by the ERC Scientific Council. It is highly likely that the four funding streams from 2015—covering Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Proof of Concept grants—will be continued as they stand, with the number and timing of calls still to be determined.

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Future and Emerging Technologies (download)

The 2016-17 work programme for the Future and Emerging Technologies is expected to consist of three competitive calls: FET-Open, FET-Proactive, and a third call specific to high performance computing.

The greatest change will be in the FET Proactive call, which supports the creation of research clusters on “out-of-the-box” innovations. This will fund a new set of topics compared to the first work programme, which covered modelling systems, robots and quantum technologies. Although these topics have not yet been chosen, they will be picked from suggestions made in an April public consultation, which suggested bio-mimicry, nano-fluidics, innovation modelling and the impact of technologies on daily life.

A separate FET Proactive call for supercomputing is envisaged to push forward the Commission’s High Performance Computing plan, published in 2012. This will focus on high-productivity programming, exascale computer systems and strategies to cope with huge quantities of data.

FET-Open will continue to fund early-stage, high-risk research on any projects—but will be looking to fund “a more diverse portfolio” of projects than it has before, according to the plan. The Commission also intends to boost flexibility to ensure that the duration, size and complexity of projects are fit-for-purpose. A more flexible programme is also expected to increase the variety of participants and include more young researchers and SMEs.

For 2016-17, the FET programme will tackle ethical questions on multidisciplinary research through the social sciences, humanities and the behavioural sciences and funding public engagement. It will also provide funding for the next phase of the FET Flagship programmes on graphene and human brain research, as outlined in the latest update published in September.

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Marie Skłowdowska-Curie Actions (download)

The start of the Marie Skłowdowska-Curie Actions under Horizon 2020 has been seen as a success, meaning that the programme will continue in the same vein for 2016-17: holding yearly calls for each of the four main exchange programmes.

These are: Innovative Training Networks to support early-stage researchers within the first four years of their career; Individual Fellowships for more experienced researchers; a RISE call for academic exchanges between individuals from at least three countries; and the COFUND action, which funds exchanges in conjunction with national research councils.

A big priority will be improving the participation of female researchers in the programme, as a way to improve the gender disparity within research. 

In addition, the RISE call will be used to push for more participation from non-EU countries as part of a general move to better recognise the value of international cooperation. “Continuing the MSCA development of international networks and teams can open new opportunities for further collaboration, broaden the outlook of researchers, and strongly contribute to the development of their personal and professional competences,” states the paper.

Meanwhile, the fifth call in this area (NIGHT), which covers European Researchers’ Night activities for public outreach, will only be held once in 2016 to cover two-years worth of activities.

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Research infrastructure (download)

Funding sustainability, better links with industry, improved trans-national access and open access to data are the main priorities for research infrastructure in 2016-17—and the Commission plans to address this through five specific calls.

The first call will fund existing facilities identified under the Esfri roadmap, but with a “new emphasis on long-term sustainability and efficient operation”. The call will also support infrastructure projects looking to get onto the ESFRI roadmap in 2016, as well as funding design studies for new infrastructure. Projects will be allocated funds to build access for researchers in other countries.

A second call on integrating infrastructure will fund activities to increase innovation output, promote open data practices, and widen the number of users, particularly in developing countries.

Through a specific e-infrastructure call, the Commission intends to support high-speed networks and supercomputing initiatives to better connect researchers to data, and to each other.

The support to innovation call will fund pre-commercial and public procurement to increase the use of research infrastructure by industry. It will also fund pan-European R&D platforms to link facilities in different countries that are relevant to the same technologies, and improve access for small businesses.

A final call on policy support actions will fund the development of a harmonised RI evaluation strategy, which can be used by member states to target their infrastructure funding. This needs to be done because member states have a “striking lack of common criteria” for making such funding decisions, reports the paper.

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Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies – ICT (download)

The Commission is continuing to be progressive in its plans for ICT research, and focus on fields where true progress is happening rather than technologies that have already been done. A significant focus for the 2016-17 work programme will be the Internet of Things—which has been designated one of nine focus areas to be tackled by the societal challenges and enabling technologies sections of Horizon 2020.

Money will be assigned for large-scale demonstration projects on the Internet of Things, to progress the use of the technology in real-life settings. The Internet of Things involves connecting everyday objects to the internet, and Horizon 2020 will focus on clothes, energy systems, transport vehicles and hospital operating rooms in 2016-17, amongst others.

In addition, one major ICT call per year is envisaged in 2016 and 2017 to cover the rest of the Commission’s priorities in this field. This will fund R&D and product development for cloud computing, 5G internet development, big data and gaming software, robotics and autonomous systems and the development of micro- and nano-electronics and photonics for hardware.

In the last work programme, the Commission funded specific calls for cooperation with Brazil and Japan in ICT—and these two countries will remain a priority for cooperation, with the addition of Korea as a third target.

A specific call for small businesses, through the SME instrument, and the Fast-Track to Innovation pilot for close-to-market research will be used to further boost commercial R&D. Research on data privacy and security, and social studies on people’s attitudes and acceptance of new technologies will also be funded.

Meanwhile, the work programme will assign two-year budgets for several large-scale industry partnerships. These include the four public-private partnerships on 5G communications, Robotics, Photonics and Factories of the Future, as well as the Ecsel joint-technology initiative on electronic components and systems.

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Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies - Nanotech, materials and processing (download)

The main focus in 2016-17 will be to support EU manufacturing, following a more widespread call from member states and the Commission to promote the re-industrialisation of Europe. This will involve an even greater focus on getting the results of research into industrial processes. “With the results of previous research projects becoming available, now is the time to devote effort to the innovation part of the programme,” states the document.

Industrial development funded by this call must be environmentally friendly and sustainable, according to the Commission, meaning activities in this work programme will be geared towards a cross-cutting focus area entitled: Industry 2020 and the Circular Economy. In practice, this means much of the 2016-17 funding will be spent on three relevant public-private partnerships, entitled Factories of future, Sustainable Process Industries (Spire), and Energy-Efficient buildings. These are intended to modernise EU industries, and also develop the computerisation of manufacturing through smart devices, cyber-physical systems, and IT infrastructure.

The plan hints the EU may be considering an additional initiative in the area of 3D printing (also called Additive Manufacturing in the document). This is most likely to be a public-private partnership, as the EU seeks to get a foot in the door with international emerging companies in this field.

Aside from this, a single call will cover R&D and innovation in nanotechnology, advanced materials, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing and processing. Industries that are likely to receive particular attention are the healthcare sector for nanomedicines, energy production, biotechnology and feedstock resources, as well as chemicals and agriculture.

The work programme will also fund SSH research to look at the development and acceptance of nanotechnologies, risk assessments for new technologies and governance and ethics for synthetic biology.

Like others, this work programme acknowledges the need to raise international participation in Horizon 2020—but says that this needs to be done with caution for near-market projects. “At Technology Readiness Levels up to 5, international cooperation would be welcome, to create EU added value, while for higher Technology Readiness Levels this has to be decided on a case by case basis against a background of increasing competition and different regulatory settings,” recommends the document.

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Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies – Space (download)

The Commission plans to keep the same structure for space funding throughout the duration of Horizon 2020, meaning the 2016-17 programme will mirror the first two years of the programme. This will centre on four calls: applications for satellite navigation, earth observation, protection in and from space, and industrial competitiveness.

The first two calls will focus on developing ways to make money from the EU’s expensive flagship space projects, Galileo and EGNOS (for satellite navigation) and Copernicus (which carries out Earth observation for weather prediction and other uses). “These space programmes will reach full operational capacity in the next years and European service industry and end users should be in a position to reap the benefits of the large public investments made over several decades,” states the 2016-17 plan. The third call will tackle the hot topic of space debris and its threats to satellites and exploration.

The work programme will also continue the Strategic Research Clusters on electric propulsion and space robotics, launched under the last programme. Under these new initiatives introduced under Horizon 2020, the Commission first launches a call for a consortium to establish a plan for further research funding in the relevant area, which is then implemented through further calls.

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Access to Risk Finance (download)

One of the Commission’s aims for this 2016-17 work programme is to increase the availability of financing for small businesses carrying out R&D, which often struggle to convince banks to support them at less-than-extortionate premiums. Another is to improve finance terms for medium and large companies, which the Commission says is usually fee-heavy and lacks the flexible or length of term to support investment in research staff.

The Commission hopes to do this by pursuing all the main Horizon 2020 finance measures launched in 2014, which are run by the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund. These will be adapted to give more direct loans to larger firms and more intermediated loans to SMEs and midcaps, and to boost equity finances for all companies.

The Commission says it also intends to try and get a greater number of national banks involved in the initiatives, to ensure businesses from all member states have access to decent finance.

The biggest change to the work programme in 2016-17 is that the Commission is considering pilot initiatives to increase crowdfunding for R&D, as well as philanthropic donations to support venture capital. In a communication in March, the Commission said crowdfunding could offer a flexible way to finance R&D, and also increase public engagement in science and research. Meanwhile, the League of European Research Universities has advised that universities should encourage philanthropy to protect rare fields of research and increase science funding.

Other pilots that could be trialled in 2016-17 include a fund to provide finance to young entrepreneurs. Existing pilots that finance technology transfer and innovative ICT firms are also likely to be scaled up for the next two-year phase of the programme.

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Innovation in SMEs (download)

Whilst the budget assigned to this particular area is small, the Innovation in SMEs work programme sets out plans for all activities relating to small businesses, many of which are financed by other parts of the programme.

A total of 7 per cent of the combined budget for the societal challenges and industrial leadership pillar will be spent on funding small businesses through the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument, and in 2016-17 the Commission will focus on developing the third phase of this instrument.

Phase 3 supports the commercialisation of products, by providing business mentoring, legal advice and access to finance. This follows Phase 1, which provides up to €50,000 for a six-month feasibility study, and Phase 2, which pays up to €2.5 million for demonstration and piloting. This instrument has so far proved extremely popular, with a success rate of only 6 per cent in the first call.

The Commission is considering piloting an SME innovation fellowship, which would be run in conjunction with the Marie Curie-Skłodowska Actions for researcher exchanges. This would pay for SMEs to hire researchers that can help them develop their innovations. This would include scientists and technology experts, but also researchers in design, arts and the media to develop creative aspects of the business.  

Another idea is to provide grants for SMEs to help civil society organisations launch campaigns and develop new models for social innovation.

Meanwhile, the Commission sees a need to push European businesses to capitalise on innovation ideas and capacity in emerging economies—and says specific measures will be developed for this. 

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SC1: Health, demographic change and wellbeing (download)

Ageing R&D gets a big lift in priority under this work programme, to add to the focus on personalised health care in 2014-15. To this end, all activities under the health challenge for 2016-17 look likely to be funded under one single call, called “Promoting healthy ageing and personalised healthcare”.

This will contain five sub-categories: ageing, translational molecular research, population health, infectious diseases and ICT for health.

Funding under ageing will cover research to understand the ageing process and its effects. As well as biological markers of ageing, this will include social science research to find out what older people need to remain independent, mobile and healthy, and develop technologies to help them do this. It will also look at how lifestyle and medical interventions in children can improve health in old age.

Under translational molecular research, the work programme will fund population-level profiling of genetic phenotypes and clinical outcomes of disease, to develop treatments for specific sub-populations. This is part of the Commission’s plan to develop personalised medicine, whereby patients are given more targeted treatments based on their genetic make-up—and will feed into a European strategy for personalised medicine, a policy document under development by the Commission.

The third category, on population health, will focus on the non-communicable diseases of mental health disorders and obesity, to develop both treatments and prevention strategies. Meanwhile, research into infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV will be funded under the fourth category, which looks to develop vaccines and treatments, as well as ways to reduce exposure.

The final focus, on ICT for health, will fund R&D to give patients more options to monitor and control their health and treatment strategies, as well as helping national health systems to integrate huge amounts of patient data and monitor changes in public health care.

Whilst personalised health care no longer forms an overarching focus for this phase of Horizon 2020 (see RE article), research under this challenge will contribute to the goals of progressing the Internet of Things and Digital Security.

The call will allocate funding via several industry initiatives in the health area. The Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 will focus on developing the personalised healthcare industry in 2016-17. The Active and Assisted Living Joint Programme will support close-to-market projects to tackle ageing. 

Meanwhile, the Commission will target the United States as its priority for international cooperation in healthcare on specific subjects, including rare and infectious diseases and ICT programmes.

It will also spend money on the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials 2 partnership, which funds trials in Africa.

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SC2: Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy (download)

This challenge builds on the themes of sustainable food production and ocean development (called “blue growth”), which were focus areas for 2014-15 and will continue to be so for the next two-year phase.

A further two calls will cover food production in rural territories, and improving the bio-industries.

The food security call, a new priority that wasn’t in the last work programme, will cover R&D to make food production techniques and industries more resilient against the damaging effects of climate change and natural disasters. It will also fund projects to integrate information on consumer choices into food production systems, and develop recycling.

A blue growth call will fund the development and piloting of ocean floating platforms for energy and food production, large-scale algae biomass refineries, and deep sea mining. It will also tackle the problem of marine pollution, and fund projects on ocean monitoring and observation.

The third call, called Rural Renaissance, is intended to develop farming, fisheries and environmental protection in less developed or coastal areas within Europe—meaning there will be a big link with the Structural funds, allocated to regions for economic development. The Horizon 2020 funds will be used to develop infrastructure and ICT systems for rural areas, as well as funding projects that seek to improve the human capital and skills to boost industry.

Meanwhile, a fourth section will target the development of the biomass industry for energy production, which includes social science research to ensure this development incorporates population preferences and perception of risks. This funding will mostly be allocated via the joint technology initiative on the bio-based industries.

Some projects under this work programme will link with Societal challenge 3 and the focus area of smart cities and energy efficiency; and Societal challenge 5, focusing on Industry 2020 and the circular economy.

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SC3: Secure, clean and efficient energy (download)

This work programme retains the three-call structure of the first two years, covering the Horizon 2020 focus areas of energy efficiency, low-carbon technologies and building smart cities. However, a new priority within these three calls is the security and affordability of energy—to reflect the political environment—as well as giving more say to consumers in directing energy production.

Under the energy efficiency call, the Commission will fund projects in smart energy production, which involves the use of ICT programmes to make grids and widespread systems more efficient, and give individuals better control over energy use. It will also fund R&D related to construction and the energy-efficiency of buildings, low-carbon sources of energy for heating and cooling, and developing new financial models and processes for energy production.

The competitive low-carbon energy call will fund R&D on renewable technologies and biofuels, smart energy grids and new modelling systems for national and international energy production.

The smart cities call will fund research into business models for energy-efficient urban areas, to include data security, and continue to support the demonstration projects, where technologies are tested in one city for wider roll out.

This challenge links heavily with the priorities of the Strategy Energy Technology Plan for 2016-17, which are: developing active consumer involvement and improving efficiency and optimisation to make energy production cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

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SC4: Smart, green and integrated transport (download)

In the 2014-15 work programme, the Mobility for Growth call was the main focus area, allocating funding for R&D to develop technologies for safe, efficient and environmentally friendly transport.

This focus will continue for the next work programme: but instead of opting for purely technological developments, a lot more focus will be placed on social science studies, to consider the possibilities for behavioural change and to ensure that technologies developed reflect users’ needs.

A new focus area on automated road transport has been added, and this will be a major call in 2016-17. This call will cover all aspects of R&D needed to develop self-driving cars, including satellite navigation technologies, component development, traffic management models and human-machine interactions.

Alongside this, the Commission will fund a call for the public-private partnership on European Green Vehicles to develop better technologies for electric cars, and increase their use.

The call on Mobility for Growth will be continued, to fund research across the major forms of transport: air, rail, road and water. These will be structure to fit around the main joint technology initiatives of Clean Sky 2, Sesar, Shift2Rail and Fuel Cells and Hydrogen, to avoid overlap.

Meanwhile, a challenge prize called The Cleanest Engine is envisaged, as a competition to reduce the amount of pollution emitted from car and van engines. “The prize aims at spurring the development of engine and powertrain technologies leading to vehicles with the lowest attainable noxious emissions in real life driving conditions,” states the plan.

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SC5: Climate action, resources and raw materials (download)

This challenge covers a wide range of topics related to climate change, ranging from pollution reduction to environmentally friendly innovation and recycling, as well as water conservation and cultural heritage research. In 2016-17, the Commission says it wants to fund R&D that takes a more systemic approach to solving the problems of climate change: meaning it is looking for proposals that cover not only new technologies, but also business models, financing options, governance structures and behavioural change.

Although the organisation of specific calls is not yet clear, a major call looks likely to focus on six priorities. The first of these, on raw materials, will fund R&D at lower technology levels to improve exploration, extraction, processing and recycling. It will also support pilot facilities for the production of primary and secondary resources.

The second topic, climate services, will fund projects to develop specific tools, products and services to mitigate against the effects of climate change and strengthen the market for renewable energy. A third topic, nature-based solutions, will fund land-use planning projects to protect vulnerable areas, including coastal regions and forest. 

Under an earth observation stream, the Commission hopes to develop an open market for observational data from satellites, and to attract companies to make use of the large amount of data expected from the EU’s flagship satellite programme Copernicus.

A funding stream on cultural heritage will support archaeology, history, anthropology, geography, and economics projects to advance the profitability of European cultural sites, and explore the possibilities for innovation related to cultural heritage. Meanwhile, a sixth topic will fund activities related to water conservation.

Overall, the Commission hopes that research under this Societal Challenge will help develop an approach to sustainable production called the circular economy, and trigger changes in consumption patterns—which has been designated an overall focus area for Horizon 2020.

It is also designed to tie in with efforts in other areas towards smart cities, blue growth and sustainable food security.

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SC6: Inclusive societies (download)

This challenge, the major SSH domain of Horizon 2020, is intended to address the major challenges to European society: unemployment, poverty, the innovation divide and immigration, as well as security threats and terrorism. It will fund three calls for 2016-17: Co-creation for growth; Reversing inequalities; and Engaging together globally.

The Co-creation for growth call ties together research that is about the exchange of information and ideas between different parts of society. This will include education research to pilot new ways of learning, and studies to examine the involvement of citizens in policymaking. It will also promote the management and use of cultural heritage, by supporting museums and the digitalisation of collections, for example.

A specific stream of research will look at evidence-based policymaking, and the governance of the European Research Area, as well as developing policies to address Science 2.0.

The Reversing inequalities call will look at understanding and reducing differences between groups of society, by studying social unrest, extremism and xenophobic behaviour. It will also promote inclusive innovation, to involve the public more in areas of research relevant to their lives, such as healthcare.

Meanwhile, Engaging together globally will study foreign policy strategies with the aim of maximising the EU’s influence on worldwide politics, and also study security policies, migration pattern and international cooperation in research.

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SC7: Secure societies (download)

This challenge aims to fight crime and terrorism, improve security and protect people and infrastructure. Under the 2014-15 work programme, a total of four calls were run: and the latest plan suggests these will be continued, with an additional four added to take the total to eight calls in 2016-17.

The first call to be continued, on disaster management, would fund R&D to protect against natural disasters as well as chemical, biological and explosive attacks on people and buildings. This could also include food security research, such as R&D on tracing food contaminants, protecting the Arctic and Antarctic regions from damage; and projects on risk assessment.

The second call, Fight against crime and terrorism, would include projects to tackle cyber-crime, trafficking and preventing radicalism and recruitment to terrorist organisations, as well as forensics research.

The call on Border and external security would continue to fund research on policing national boundaries, including enhanced measures to check electronic travel documents and improving maritime surveillance.

Meanwhile, the call on Digital Security—a specific focus area for the whole programme—would seek to protect ICT systems from cyber attacks, including those in the areas of health, energy systems and transport, as well as focusing on protection for SMEs.

Four additional calls are suggested on the cyber and physical security of European infrastructure and enterprises; privacy; the ethics of data security, and horizontal actions to improve pan-European coordination. The first of these would focus on the defence of public organisations, law enforcement agencies and large enterprises, whilst privacy issues of Big Data and the Internet of Things would also be tackled. 

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April 24, 2014

Take our survey on academics, universities and Scottish independence

by Adam Smith

“I’ve kept my head down a bit,” a senior university figure in Scotland told me recently. “There’s the feeling that coming out is career suicide.”

He was talking about taking a position (or not) on Scottish independence. Although a handful of academics have thrown their support behind the yes or the no camp, most academics are keeping quiet.

To find out more about this phenomenon—and to count academics on both sides—Research Fortnight is conducting an anonymous, independent and unattributed survey of researchers and university staff. Respondents can be entered into a draw to win one of five subscriptions to Research Fortnight or Research Europe.

Take the survey here. It’ll close on 13 May.

It is the only survey we know of that is focused on the implications of independence and the debate on research, higher education and science. The five-minute survey is open to researchers in universities, research office staff, managers and researchers in industry. Responses will not be attributed to individuals or their institutions.

As well as counting the number of ayes and naes held on university campuses across Scotland, we want to hear more about what might stop academics from speaking their minds and which aspects of independence they’re concerned or hopeful about—be it research funding, tuition fee policy or science policy.

If enough people take the survey, the results will be fascinating and give us the first true picture of researchers’ views, hopes and concerns. We’ll publish the results in a supplement to Research Fortnight magazine, which will be made available for free to everyone who takes the survey regardless of whether their institution subscribes to the magazine or Research Professional, our online news site and funding database.

The survey itself is free and shareable online, so please pass it on to colleagues and ask them to participate too.

“It is absolutely right that academics…are encouraged and feel free to express their views,” said a spokesman for the first minister Alex Salmond in November. He was defending Chris Whatley, a historian at the University of Dundee who identified himself as a no voter while taking part in an academic debate on independence and found himself under fire from a Scottish National Party MSP.

Even if you feel you can’t voice your view in public, we hope you can feed into our anonymous and independent survey.

Click here to take the survey.

March 27, 2014

EU, science and gender: The BBC’s chatter ill serves its listeners

by Inga Vesper

BBC science interviewers sometimes do get over-excited when the person on the other microphone is a woman. Indeed “expert” interviewees from the “other” gender are a rare sight on BBC programmes more generally. In four years worth of programmes on BBC Question Time, only 98 of the 362 panellists were women.

When you combine a woman who is also a senior scientist with that other legendary beast, the EU, it makes for cringeworthy listening. This was the case with University of Surrey professor Jim al-Khalili’s interview on The Life Scientific with Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser to the president of the European Commission—José Manuel Barroso. Though I wonder why Barroso’s name was never mentioned in the programme.

Glover has occupied this high profile and controversial post for four years, so you would think the interviewer would have plenty of material to talk about: how Europe struggles to create a joined-up scientific community; how Glover assesses her ability to influence EU politicians and her tireless efforts to create a network of national advisers, which is slowly starting to take off. Glover is also a vocal and passionate advocate of genetically modified technology.

The Life Scientific is meant to be as much about the person as his or her work, but Glover's deep-rooted passion for science could have been well explored by asking these questions. The fact that she won’t be continuing this role after May’s European elections could have provided space to ask these and other critical questions about her work. Has she really increased the profile of European science? Is there any lasting legacy, considering that the post may not be renewed under the next president?

But if you were looking for sharp insights, The Life Scientific was the wrong place. Instead the programme’s production team treats listeners to patronising anecdotes of Glover’s childhood (“Your parents must have supported you, right?”), interspersed with phone-ins from Glover’s colleagues, who gush over how fantastic she is, doing sciencey things that have to do with sparkly molecules.

al-Khalili calls Glover “the most influential scientist in Europe”, which even Glover would probably contest. “How do you get anything done in Europe,” he wonders, and the listener wonders, too. He was referring to the EU, of course and not “Europe”, which is a continent of 750 million people, and not the 500 million that we heard. In the same vein, al-Khalili asked Glover about how she copes with different stances on nuclear power in Germany and France. He ought to have known (or been briefed) that national policies are not her remit, nor are they the EU’s.

Barely troubled by al-Khalili’s questions, Glover sailed through it all. It was an easy interview for her, an occasion to repeat her well-worn, but still important, arguments for science, without having to justify or explain too much.

Underlying this interview was a whiff of disbelief that Glover had gone to work for the EU at all. Her continuous record of laboratory work at the University of Aberdeen was mentioned as if it were some sort of insurance for Glover to, one day, return to the safety of home, and not the perfectly normal arrangement for a scientific adviser, which is what it is.

The BBC might think that being lightweight about the EU and its work is en vogue in these increasingly Eurosceptic times for the UK. But in this instance it turned what could have otherwise been an engaging and insightful interview into shallow chatter.

Inga Vesper is news editor of Research Europe. Follow us on @ResearchEurope

January 23, 2014

Reform is not just a Tory issue

by Laura Greenhalgh

Reluctance to engage with the British conservatives in a debate over EU reform could represent a missed opportunity, for Europe and for science.

Last week, I attended a conference in London hosted by the think tank Open Europe. Billed as a Pan-European conference for EU reform, the event was dominated by conservative ministers from the UK and a handful from other EU member states.

The event began with a speech from UK chancellor George Osborne that epitomised the black and white nature under which the discussion on reform was initiated last January: “Reform, or we’re out,” he implied. But beyond this, I observed a nuanced debate between pro-reformers about the benefits and constraints of the EU and how it might do things better, with the majority supporting the UK staying in the EU.

To set things straight: I am not a conservative, I support the fundamental premise of the EU as an instrument of peace, economic progress and political reform, and I do not want the UK to leave the Union.

But I also see nothing wrong with a widely engaging debate on the changes—big or small—that could make the EU better, involving all political parties, even if the premise on which the debate was initiated might have ruffled some feathers. 

Europe is not struggling because it is anti-competitive and anti-science, as George Osborne claimed, but because of the banking crisis. And whilst European research is not to blame, it has certainly felt the effects: as many as 11 member states have seen a decrease in their higher education funding of more than 5 per cent since 2008, according to the European University Association.

Some of the changes being proposed by the reform campaign could benefit researchers significantly. At the London conference, participants played a game to reform the EU budget, suggesting how the allocations under the €1 trillion seven-year spending plan might be improved. The breakdown that won the prize of ‘best budget’ allocated nearly all of the money to cross-border R&D spending, with the remainder for cohesion in the poorest regions.

Such a swinging shift is unrealistic. But the underlying message is clear: many reformers want more spending on R&D.

Another major facet of the conservative’s agenda is “more power to member states”: allowing member states to make their own decisions on issues they are best placed to rule on. At present, MEPs and Brussels officials spend months ruling on directives that are then torn apart by opt-outs and alterations at the national level. So why not decide which issues should be European, and which should be national, without this messy in-between?

A debate about what constitutes a national issue and what constitutes an EU one could bring some much-needed clarity to Europe’s policymaking. What’s more, by leaving national issues at the national level, it would allow the Brussels institutions more time to focus on real Pan-European agendas—including the European Research Area.

Furthermore, engaging the conservatives in debate would allow their opponents to address a fundamental error in the right-wing argument: that is, trying to evaluate the EU against a perfect model of democracy, which national governments are even further from achieving. Idealism, rather than realism, has proved to be a highly effective weapon in the rhetoric heralding the failings of the EU, and it must be countered.

Some industries have grasped the opportunity to engage, with the British Bankers’ Association calling for closer ties with Brussels, and the UK car industry voicing concern about an EU exit. And there have been murmurings amongst scientists and research organisations about the potential damage to Britain if it leaves the EU, given that the UK is one of the most successful recipients of European research funding.

But some politicians from outside the conservatives seem scared to join in the debate, for fear of being branded a Eurosceptic. Others are worried about agreeing to alterations to the EU treaties, in case they are opening the door to the abyss. And the remainder seem to be treating the conservative’s campaign as they would a naughty child: ignore them, and they might shut up.

But let’s have some faith in the strengths of the European project, and the widespread support on its fundamental reason for existing. Let’s start a positive and forward-looking discussion on the Europe that we want to see in 20 years time. The EU is going to change regardless—so let’s not leave it only to the conservatives to determine how. 

December 11, 2013

Horizon 2020 - Calls Day Live Blog

by Inga Vesper

Welcome to our Horizon 2020 Calls Day live blog. We'll bring you the latest news on calls and funding, plus reaction and analysis, thoughout the day. All times are UK local.

For more in-depth analysis check out our summary of all Horizon 2020 Work Programmes

Please refresh this page regularly to see the latest entries. And do check us out on Twitter—@ResearchEurope. Enjoy!

15:41 - A word of warning on the deadlines included in the call summaries on the participant portal: don’t take them as guaranteed. Several of the calls have more than one round of funding, and for these the Commission has only listed the latest cut off dates. Ones we have spotted already under pillar one are the ERC Proof of Concept grants, and the FET Open calls. So make sure you check the call details (or our database, of course) carefully: there may be a chance to get your proposal evaluated and get some money sooner than you think! 

14:23 - Daan du Toit, South Africa’s science and technology representative to the EU, has expressed his congratulations on Horizon 2020 call launch on Twitter, writing that “South Africa looks forward to research innovation partnerships with Europe”. South Africa will be one of many countries looking to tap into this new source of research income, the rules of which will be governed by the Commission’s internationalisation strategy for Horizon 2020 (full blown pdf version here). The basic jist is that H2020 is fully open to participation from researchers anywhere, but only certain groups can automatically receive funding. Aside from member states and associated countries, this is limited to International Cooperation Partner countries (less developed economies)—and importantly, this classification has been changed from Framework 7 to exclude emerging economies like Brazil, India, and China, which will now be expected to pay their own way. Exceptions are when the EU has specific reciprocal agreements to provide funding (like it does with the US), or if a country's participation is deemed to be crucial to the success of the project. 

14:01 - Cost, the European cooperation in science and technology, has branded the call launch an “essential milestone” in making Europe more innovative and competitive. In a statement just published, the organisation highlights its own role under Horizon 2020 in continuing to encourage coordination between researchers in different countries. This has involved a change in legal structure for the organisation, to help it function better under Horizon 2020. The organisation will mostly be funded through the sixth societal challenge—inclusive, innovative and secure societies.  

14:00 -  This is Laura, taking over the blogging for the rest of the day!

13.41 - Cefic, the lobby group for the chemicals industry, has issued a statement welcoming Horizon 2020. The programme's focus on industry and applied spending suits chemicals businesses well, said Cefic director for research Gernot Klotz. He added that EU funding, especially grants and loans to small businesses, are important in the face of "fierce" international competition. 

13.14 - Our funding opportunities team has uploaded the first batch of Horizon 2020 calls. These should appear in our database within the hour. 

12.55 - The Smart Cites initiative is apparently generating some buzz. There's €92 million in Horizon 2020 in 2014 for this programme, which aims to boost citizen involvement in innovation. However, the idea came under fire during a conference last month, when scientists said they are tired of large-scale pilot programmes on this, and would like more substantial and long-term funding to get on with the task at hand.

12.37 - Statement comes out on Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions. There's €800 million in 2014. The total budget, about €6 billion, is expected to fund about 65,000 researcher exchanges, the Commission says. Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions were supported strongly by researchers, who worried that they might lose funding to the more dominant ERC, as both programmes are in the excellent science pillar. The programme is certainly one of the most-loved parts of the Framework programme, and some participants welcomed the addition of Curie's maiden name to the title. 

12.19 - Commission issues statement on transport funding, which mentioned Shift2Rail, the planned Joint Technology Initiative for a pan-European railway network. Transport will get a total of €6.3 billion under Horizon 2020, which is about 8 per cent of the total budget. About €1.9bn comes from DG Transport, which will be involved in several of the calls. 

12.04 - Quick summary of research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn's launch speech. She says Europe badly needs new ideas, and that the calls represent the EU asking directly for these ideas. The three pillars are the mainstay, but there is plenty of funding for cross-cutting issues, such as gender, climate change, ect. "We are defining the problem, but we are asking the participants to find the best solution to get the job done," Geoghegan-Quinn said.

Questions were asked about SME participation, stem cell science and brain drain. SME participation target under Horizon 2020 is up to 20 per cent, and Geoghegan-Quinn is positive that this will be met. The applied science focus of Horizon 2020 came under fire, though, with one Twitter user calling it the "bullshit bingo". But Geoghegan-Quinn stayed firm, saying it was the way to go. "I've been to seven launch events, and attendants included a strong segment of industry who want to be involved," she said. "I guess Horizon 2020 will be oversubscribed."

11.27 - Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is to give launch speech on Horizon 2020 at EU-midday briefing in a few minutes. Watch here. Ongoing briefing on Ukraine might overrun a bit, though.

11.20 - Commission press statement on Horizon 2020 is out, summarising the EU's favourite parts of the programme. "Horizon 2020 funding is vital for the future of research and innovation in Europe, and will contribute to growth, jobs and a better quality of life," says research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. There's €15 billion in total for 2014-2015, including €1.7bn for the ERC, €1.8bn for industrial leadership and €2.8bn for societal challenges. A press briefing is scheduled for 12.30 CET. 

11.04 - G8 Dementia summit has kicked off in London, with German health minister Daniel Bahr calling it the biggest problem facing western societies in the near future. Meanwhile, the Innovative Medicines Initiative has launched its last Framework 7 call, on clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease, worth (€53 million). Under the health societal challenge in Horizon 2020 there is a pot awarding €5 million each for projects that align research into dementia and brain diseases across Europe (HCO-11). The overall funding pot for health is about €7.5 billion over the duration of Horizon 2020.

10.34 - Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, is interviewed on Vieuws. She says that the WASTE programme in Horizon 2020, which is to get €100 million over the next two years, could create up to 400,000 jobs. The energy saving programme, down for €200 million in the same time frame, could create 250,000 jobs. "We need to get cracking and get those projects going," she says. Watch the full interview here

9.58 - The European Commission has published a flyer on ICT-enabled public innovation, providing nformation on funding opportunities under societal challenge 6 and 7—inclusive and secure societies—for ICT infrastructures that could improve governance. This includes funding for emerging technologies, open participation in governance, mobile public services, and funding for privacy research under secure societies, for which there will be €47 million in 2014.

9.40 - Whilst celebrating Horizon 2020, spare a thought for our friend of seven years Framework 7. Manfred Horvat of the Vienna University of Technology has written an in-depth analysis of the outgoing Framework programme for us, saying that through Framework 7 "innumerable collaborative links have been built, strengthening and tightening the connections in the fabric of European R&D."

9.17 - Impressions on Horizon 2020 from EUREC's Greg Arrowsmith: In an article written earlier, he remarks on the strengthened position of energy research in this Framework programme, and says that a hike in funding will support Europe in achieving the 20-20-20 target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. Arrowsmith, however, is critical of the more open concept of Horizon 2020, saying that this could lead to a diffusion of goals and a too-wide approach to solving societal problems. "Unless the Commission takes action, the stakeholders who do the writing (often volunteers) will lose motivation," Arrowsmith warns. Read the full comment here

8.55 - Research commmissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn will hold a briefing on the Horizon 2020 calls at 12.30 CET. We'll be there to tell you what she's got to say.

8.30 - Good morning! We've kicked off the day to the news that the Commision's participant portal is still empty - fortunately we've obtained all the calls info from other sources, so our funding team is already busy filling out the database to bring you the latest calls. Meanwhile, a screenshot for posterity:

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 08.33.06

December 10, 2013

Horizon 2020 Work Programme Summaries

by Inga Vesper

Dear readers,

to help you get on top of the Horizon 2020 Work Programmes, Laura Greenhalgh and Inga Vesper have prepared a list of handy summaries. These include details about call topics and budgets, as well as some analysis on recent trends and future prognoses for scientific fields covered by these programmes.

You'll find all summaries here.

Enjoy the read!

November 04, 2013

Nutt's message undermined by his own lazy evidence, say scientists

by William Cullerne Bown

This post is from Dr Maria Viskaduraki, a biostatistician at the University of Leicester, and Diamanto Mamuneas, a PhD student at the Royal Veterniary College

In October 2009, David Nutt was forced to step down from his position as head of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after counselling the then government against reclassification of Cannabis from Class C to Class B (advice which the government ignored).

Shortly after, the BBC reported Nutt's words; "If scientists are not allowed to engage in the debate at this interface (between scientific advice and policy making) then you devalue their contribution to policy making and undermine a major source of carefully considered and evidence-based advice."

It is unusual to witness scientists defending the value and importance of science in the public sphere – especially when it comes to politics – and Nutt should be credited for daring to do so. Science is the best tool we have for settling disputes over such issues and it is a dangerous mistake for governments to choose the majority opinion in the face of scientific evidence.

However, irrespective of whether David Nutt and the ACMD's original position was evidence-based or accurate, Nutt and colleagues' high-profile paper, published in The Lancet a year later, falls short of settling the controversy and is a poor example of science's potential usefulness.

Nutt presents evidence generated using the “multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) approach” and to understand just what the results tells us, and more importantly just how these results were arrived at, one must first push past this obscurantist's dream of an acronym and see just what the procedure involved.

Over the course of a single day, a group of “experts” got together to discuss how each of 20 drugs deemed relevant in the UK scored (from 0-100) in terms of 16 criteria. These experts were asked to share their own opinions and it is clearly stated in the subsequent publication that “scores [were] often changed… as participants share[ed] their different experiences and revise[d] their views”. It is well-documented that an outspoken individual can bias a crowd so the subjectivity of this approach should be considered – not to mention the extent of the individuals' expertise if they were so easily biased.

The seemingly arbitrary criteria on which the substances were then scored included drug-specific damage, family adversities, economic cost, crime, loss of tangibles, injury, dependence and loss of relationships. It is difficult to imagine a situation where most of these are not interconnected. Statistical analyses are expected to take into account interactions between variables and not simply assume them to be independent. It becomes impossible to weigh up the relative costs when the criteria are so closely linked.

Consider a drug that causes, through crime, an economic cost. Might this drug not also lead to family adversities due to subsequent arrests? And then perhaps a loss of tangibles and loss of relationships too. In another instance, it might be that a given drug results in just a few of these but almost never certain others – perhaps a drug doesn't result in crime as much because it costs less, is readily available and is not illegal (such as alcohol) but can still lead to family adversities and loss of relationships because of the extent to which it alters behaviour.

Some of the criteria are also difficult to define and might be understood and weighted differently by another panel of experts or even by individuals within the group expressing their opinions here  (e.g. is economic cost more important than family adversities?). Indeed, when two drugs were tied for all criteria (both with a maximum score of 100), the panel seems to have simply chosen between them

Nutt and colleagues do consider evidence from other countries that seem to support many of the experts' prior positions (unsurprisingly). Unfortunately, such comparisons cannot validate the poor methodology evident in this study and are not appropriate to make in the first place due to differences in “availability and legal status” across the locations, which influence their impact in terms of each criterion.

Sadly, it looks like David Nutt might be right about recreational drugs and he might have had an important and valid message for the government at the time of his sacking, but, by presenting lazy evidence, he might have unwittingly devalued and undermined his own contribution.

November 04, 2013

Exactly what science do Nature think David Nutt stood up for?

by William Cullerne Bown

David Nutt has just been awarded the 2013 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. 

Nutt, you may recall, is famous for being sacked from his position as the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after disputing government decisions on the classification of cannibis and ecstacy.

In my view, spelt out in detail at the time, Nutt did not so much stand up for science as use science to prop up his own worthy but thoroughly non-scientific position.

So here's my question for the four judges who gave Nutt the award and for the others - from Benda Maddox to Mark Walport - who have allowed their names to be used to endorse this decision: "Exactly what science is it that you think David Nutt stood up for?"

October 30, 2013

Will arrows hit their target?

by John Whitfield

Note: This post was written by a senior researcher at a centre for local and regional development studies at a Russell Group university, who asked not to be named.
-John Whitfield, comment and analysis editor,
Research Fortnight.

It’s interesting to note how the word ‘local’ was quietly dropped from the title of Andrew Witty’s review of ‘Universities and Growth’ released on 15 October.  When the review’s terms of reference (pdf) were published in May, they spoke of investigating ‘Universities in their Local Communities: Enabling Economic Growth’ and exploring “the range of ways that universities contribute to their local economies including as agents of research and innovation, as providers of skills, employers, purchasers of goods and services, and as facilitators bringing people together” and “how to create an integrated strategy between the local and national players”. 

Some time in the past six months any hint of a ‘place’ agenda in describing the role universities might play in driving growth seems to have fallen by the wayside. The final document has executed a volte-face, and is instead urging that funding should be structured “by technology/industry opportunity – not by postcode.”  It also tells us to “embrace the country’s density of population and institutions”music to the ears of institutions that happen to be in areas ‘thick’ with potential collaborators in the public and private sectors.

Likewise, research intensive universities in struggling parts of the country will be breathing sighs of relief at having escaped being forced, or even just expected, to help build their local economies in return for public funding.  They now have carte blanche to work with the ‘best’ collaborators wherever they might be. Of course, they tend to be in the most economically vibrant parts of the country. 

Herein lies the paradox: the places with the greatest need for investment in innovation will often lack the industrial capacity to assimilate and capitalise on new knowledge or applications stemming from their local universities. Therefore, those universities that generate research with industrial applications are more likely to seek commercialisation opportunities further afield with suitable national or international firms.  So the rich places get richer and the poor places get poorer.

Witty dismisses the notion of rebalancing the economy once popular within the coalition, saying that England is a “small country” and that some Regional Development Agencies showed “myopia” in the geographic focus of their activities. 

Perhaps this dismissal stems from the review’s extremely narrow definition of the role universities can play in contributing to economic growth. The underlying assumption seems to be that universities can only create (economic) value through science and technology. Bodies such as the European Commission and OECD take a very different line, giving increasing prominence to the importance of universities’ research strengths in the arts, humanities and social sciences – through for example, contributions to the creative industries, business processes, service (including public service) design and policy and practice in urban and regional development.

Furthermore, the OECD, in its influential reviews of higher education and territorial development in 47 regions across member countries, emphasises not only the contribution universities can make to the economies of their cities and regions, but also the roles they can play in social and cultural development. 

For its part, the European Commission, through its new approach to regional development known as smart specialisation (which will underpin structural funding post-2013) explicitly acknowledges universities’ role not only as generators of research and knowledge, but also in helping to build absorptive, leadership and collaborative capacity locally.  It states that:

“Smart specialisation ascribes a key role to universities as actors in their local innovation ecosystems, connecting global and local knowledge domains, and arguably gives them far more prominence than has been the case in previous structural funding programmes. There is a compelling case therefore for universities to play …. a much more broadly defined role than just generators of technological research and other ‘upstream’ activities.”

The Witty review, in contrast, presents us with a world in which the contribution of universities to economic development is linear and unidirectional – as reflected in the report’s big idea of “arrow” projects. This terminology (cf ‘Catapults’) presents a deeply oversimplified view of how economic development and innovation happens.  If we must rely on such simplistic terms, maybe ‘boomerangs’ would be more appropriate?  At least they usually come back to where they were launched.

The idea that pouring money into university research will release a plethora of inventions that the private sector can pick up and commercialise has been extensively critiqued in the academic literature.  A recent study (pdf) by the Intellectual Property Office reveals that publicly funded research in the UK yields relatively few patents: the highest ranked UK applicant for portfolios of patents relating to graphene (Manchester University) is in joint 163rd place in a league table dominated by Korean and Chinese corporations and universities.

UK universities are highly ranked and regarded worldwide for their research, but translating this ‘excellence’ into innovation for the benefit of the national economy seems beyond the grasp of policy makers. 

There appears to be resistance to any hint of telling universities what to do in return for public funding, for fear of curtailing their ability to seek and attain global ‘excellence’.  But is the pursuit of academic excellence harming the public good?

It is a shame that the Witty review did not investigate more deeply the growing links between universities and their Local Enterprise Partnerships, particularly in terms of designing plans for the allocation and use of EU structural and investment funds.  Unfortunately Witty offers no guidance on how to promote or incentivise these kinds of local partnerships, which continue to rely on mutual goodwill and trust between local leaders.  But will this be enough to ensure all parts of the UK can absorb and retain the potential benefits of universities in their areas?

For more on universities' role in their local economies and the Witty review, see John Goddard's article in the 30 October edition of Research Fortnight.