Controversial U.K. Funding Policy Is Softened

Researchers in the U.K. are breathing a little easier today, in particular those who rely on grants from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is comparable to the National Science Foundation in the U.S. The EPSRC announced today that it was toning down a planned policy that would have barred researchers with poor grant success rates from submitting applications to the funding agency for 12 months--either as the PI or as a co-PI. In particular the controversial policy had decreed that researchers with "three or more proposals within a two-year period ranked in the bottom half of a funding prioritization list or rejected before panel and [who have] an overall personal success rate of less than 25% over the same two years" were to be shut out of the application process. The policy was to be retroactive. According to the EPSRC, the new rules aimed to reduce the pressure on the peer-review system. Not surprisingly, the unprecedented policy ignited a furor of anger and anxiety among academics when it was announced in March. Incensed letters appeared in newspapers like the Guardian accusing the EPSRC of blacklisting, and nearly 2000 UK citizens signed an online petition protesting the policy. If you were to call a chemist across the UK, you would have heard the policy described as everything from draconian to McCarthy-esque. Today the EPSRC announced that in response to the “constructive criticism” it had received from its stakeholders, the policy would be amended. First of all, the researchers with poor performance won’t be totally shut of applying for grants from the EPSRC. Poor performers will instead still be allowed to submit one grant application during the 12-month “cooling-off period.” Also, the retroactive clause was removed. Now the policy will begin in 2010, instead of this June. The EPSRC is still instituting one touchy aspect of the policy, which prevents applicants from resubmitting failed proposals without an invitation from the agency to do so. The amendment may do something to calm the furor but it hasn’t totally appeased the masses. In a statement, Dave Garner, president of the Royal Society for Chemistry, announced: “We welcome the EPSRC decision to address some of the concerns voiced recently by the chemical science community, but I do urge the research council to go further and remove its ban on resubmission of research proposals.”

Author: Sarah Everts

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