How much say does the government have over science spending?

Posted on November 2, 2010 by

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There is a longstanding principle that governs how much say government has over where public research funds are spent – basically decisions over the research projects that should get the money are left to the experts. There has been uncertainty, especially at times like now when spending is tight, over how this principle is being interpreted and how much say the government has on where research funds are spent. Government is planning to clarify how they are applying this principle when they announce the Science & Research Budget Allocations towards the end of this year.

Background

There is a longstanding principle – called the Haldane principle – that government allocates money to the experts and allows them to decide what research should be funded, i.e. through peer review conducted by the research funders.

In the draft structural report plan published in July (page 18), BIS announced they were going to:

7.3 Ensure that public funding mechanisms for university research safeguard its academic integrity.

i) Develop a clear policy statement on the Haldane Principle to ensure that publicly funded research projects are selected through effective peer review

What’s happening now?

In a written ministerial statement last Thursday, David Willetts announced that this review was underway. The Government are consulting with the science community and plan to publish a statement of the Haldane Principle at the same time as the Science & Research Budget Allocations, expected towards the end of this year.

The Haldane Principle

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): The Haldane principle is an important cornerstone for the protection of the scientific independence and excellence. We all benefit from its application in the UK.

The principle that decisions on individual research proposals are best taken by researchers through peer review is strongly supported by the coalition Government. Prioritisation of an individual research council’s spending within its allocation is not a decision for Ministers. Such decisions are rightly left to those best placed to evaluate the scientific quality, excellence and likely impact of scientific programmes.

The Government do, however, need to take a view on the overall level of funding to science and research and they have decided to protect and to ring fence the science and research budget for the next four years. This decision has been made in the context of the current economic status of the UK and the strategic importance of research funding, while recognising the value of science to our future growth, prosperity and cultural heritage.

Over the years there has been some uncertainty over the interpretation of the Haldane principle. I intend to clarify this is a statement which will be released alongside the science and research budget allocations towards the end of this year. In order that this statement has the consent of the research community, I intend to consult with senior figures in the UK science and research community to develop a robust statement of the Haldane principle.

 

Posted in: Policy