The second Balance of Programme exercise (BOP2020) has now been completed and ran from January to May 2020, delivered by Science Board. This exercise used the prior programme evaluations as the basis of its evidence when considering the relative balance of funding between the different PPAN research programmes, the computing programme and the accelerator programme.
STFC Executive Board has provided responses to each of the recommendations in the Balance of Programmes 2020 report which are summarised below;
RECOMMENDATION 1: STFC should maintain pressure for an uplift to its core programme as part of the next CSR to underpin core capability and leadership for development and exploitation, and to ensure a future pipeline for future technology and skills development and impact.
STFC continues to press for increases in the core programme and will put this at high priority in the next CSR submission. In the meantime, it is important to be clear that any uplifts in one area of the programme will mean a cut somewhere else.
RECOMMENDATION 2: In anything deviating significantly from either a flat cash real or +10% settlement, another Balance of Programmes exercise must be undertaken with full community consultation and involvement to determine how best to sustain the various PPAN programmes.
STFC will continue to consult the community on matters relating to the core programme and will undertake additional consultations as necessary in the light of the CSR settlement.
RECOMMENDATION 3: STFC, together with UKRI and its other research councils, must strongly urge the government to either maintain access to pre-2016 levels of European funding or else replace the funding in full, with new money to maintain the breadth and balance of the current programme. Any replacement for EU funding should also be allocated according to scientific excellence. If funding is not made available then another Balance of Programmes exercise must be undertaken to determine how to minimise and mitigate the damage to the programme, which is predicted to be considerable.
STFC notes this concern and will input accordingly, where possible, to the discussions around EU exit. A future rebalancing exercise may be appropriate depending on the eventual outcome of the EU exit process.
RECOMMENDATION 4: STFC should take measures to ensure appropriate levels of fEC/PI time are available within the consolidated grant round.
STFC is not allocated hypothecated funding for fEC/PI time. Such allocations must be tensioned against other aspects of the programme and is awarded competitively by the relevant Grants Panel. The issues around fEC are common across UKRI and cannot be addressed in isolation by STFC but we will continue to make the case for an uplift to the core programme that will help improve the situation.
RECOMMENDATION 5: STFC should seek additional funds to support the long-term software needs of the PPAN programmes.
STFC aims to pilot a Research Software Engineer award (working with the EPSRC scheme) to start in FY2021/22 if funding allows but recognise that this is only part of what will be required across the programme in the medium term and will continue to explore other opportunities. Any subsequent expansion of this will depend both on a review of its success and on the outcome of the CSR.
RECOMMENDATION 6: Hardware/e-infrastructure should be provided as part of wider e-infrastructure within UKRI. Hardware infrastructure needs to be accompanied by sufficient staff provision to give local support e.g. for data access issues, software compatibility, etc. The support for this resource should be shared between UKRI and STFC.
STFC is working together with UKRI to build resilience in the UK Digital Research Infrastructure and several initiatives are being pursued.
RECOMMENDATION 7: STFC should investigate the possibility of playing the lead role in a potential UK-wide hardware infrastructure.
STFC is working together with UKRI to drive the next generation of UK Digital Research Infrastructure encompassing the PPAN area, the National Laboratories and the Hartree Centre as well as linking to the broader needs of UKRI more generally. We will continue to support IRIS as a strong voice in coordinating this effort.
RECOMMENDATION 8: The existing UKRI uplift needs to be incorporated into the base line.
This is now the case.
RECOMMENDATION 9: In the case of a 10% uplift we support the re-introduction of a ‘PRD-style’ funding scheme which should be targeted at demonstration-level technology development.
STFC takes note of this and will prioritise such a scheme if funding is available; the previous PRD scheme is currently under review in order to be able to optimise the structure and workings of any future initiative.
RECOMMENDATION 10: Every area should ensure that there is a defined process (roadmap or otherwise) for regular horizon scanning involving Science Board, the Advisory Panels and the wider community, to avoid accidental loss of opportunity. This should be an ongoing exercise to avoid accidental loss of potential opportunity.
STFC regularly reviews its programme, including how the process of reviews themselves operate. A review is planned of how the Advisory Panels work with Science Board to achieve the appropriate level of horizon scanning and flow of advice and can address this Recommendation in more detail.
RECOMMENDATION 11: STFC should explore opportunities for responsive mode funding calls targeted at the support of small high risk – high gain projects.
STFC addressed exactly this issue in promoting and working with EPSRC to gain jointly the Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics programme, which was only possible due to the additional funding it brings in to the programme. STFC will continue to explore such opportunities.
RECOMMENDATION 12: All projects should be requested to provide high levels details of their efforts to make their research as environmentally friendly as possible.
STFC is working with UKRI on issues of Sustainability more generally. We will work with Science Board to see how best to take forward the UKRI Environmental Sustainability Strategy in practice for the PPAN area.
RECOMMENDATION 13: Considering the strategic reports expected in mid-late 2020, any divergence from current strategy and/or any requirement for an altered balance must trigger another Balance of Programmes exercise.
STFC will monitor the situation closely and, if appropriate, revisit how the programme is balanced in consultation with the community.
RECOMMENDATION 14: Fellowships are needed to bridge the gap between PhD graduation and existing schemes for researchers with clear leadership potential to establish a strong, independent research programme.
STFC agrees with this recommendation and this is why, together with EPSRC, it has administered a new UKRI post-doctoral fellowships scheme, the Stephen Hawking Fellowships, which are targeted at independent post-doctoral researchers. This is in addition to the relatively new UKRI Future Leader Fellowships and the existing Ernest Rutherford Fellowships for more established researchers. The success and balance achieved by this significantly enhanced set of Fellowship schemes will be monitored via the ETCC and any remaining gaps considered in the context of available funding.
RECOMMENDATION 15: STFC should explore developing and enhancing links with industry through fellowships, thus supporting skills development.
STFC notes this recommendation and recognises that the UKRI Future Leadership Fellowships are explicitly geared to enable industrial participation and tenure.
RECOMMENDATION 16: A clear career structure for research infrastructure and software engineers and project managers should be established by STFC, in analogy to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.
STFC notes this recommendation and will introduce a pilot scheme of Research Software Engineering in FY2020/21 if funding allows, to help universities establish appropriate career structures. Expansion in this area will be dependent on the outcome of the CSR.
RECOMMENDATION 17: Funding for Nuclear Physics should be is increased by £0.6M per year, with the cost being met by reducing funding for Astronomy and Particle Physics equally. The Panel further recommend that funding for Dark Matter in Particle Astrophysics is increased to £1.5M per year in the last two years of this time period, with funds coming from the inflationary increase across the whole programme. The Panel recommend that the relevant programme managers distribute the funds according to the best interests and health of the programmes.
STFC intends to implement this Recommendation as funding allows. We will take into account the existing and planned commitments across all areas of the PD programme as part of this implementation.
The Balance of Programme process runs on a three-year cycle agreed by both Science Board and STFC’s Executive Board. To support the process, more detailed programme evaluations of the specific research disciplines are carried out. The purpose of the programme evaluations is to look at the portfolio and science strategy to define a balanced programme of excellent science, within a realistic financial planning envelope for each scientific discipline.
The programme evaluations:
For further information on the Balance of Programmes 2020 exercise, please contact Karen Clifford.
The membership of the Panels which have been established can be found below.
Last updated: 16 August 2020