EU Funding for UK Higher Education Sector

Written by Daniela Amadio & Sian Warr, EU Research Funding Office

“When we – the UK- consider our leading worldwide position in terms of research and innovation, we need to partly thank our access to European Union funding …” says the Head of the EU Research Funding Office, Mr. Daniel Walker.

Involvement in EU research schemes and projects can be extremely beneficial to a researcher’s professional development as EU Funding schemes are prestigious, internationally recognised, aid career progression and a project management learning experience.

There are a diverse range of EU Funding Schemes open to researchers at all career stages and across a broad spectrum of disciplines.  The Horizon2020 schemes focus on research & innovation with an emphasis on the impact in academia and the wider European society; Erasmus+ enables student and staff mobility; whilst the COST scheme allows researchers to build European networks and share knowledge.

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever and one of the largest worldwide. As of 30 September 2016, the UK was the top country in terms of numbers of participations in Horizon 2020 projects (around 13.3% of the total participations) and second in terms of funding received from Horizon 2020 (around15.3% of total funding awarded)[1].

Currently the UK is still an EU Member State and will remain so during the whole negotiation period, after invoking Article 50. This has been confirmed by several sources in the European Commission[2] and by a recent statement from the government[3]: the statement provides assurance to UK organisations and it reiterates that British universities should continue to apply for EU funding. Now it is therefore the time to engage in EU funding as long as we can, and the EU Research Funding Office can help you out with that.

We represent the first port of call for any enquiries about EU funding. Our mission is to advise potential applicants, assist in non-technical aspects of the application, offer training and tailored support throughout the whole cycle of your application and even beyond during the lifetime of your awarded project. You can find our contact details here and we look forward to hearing from you and assisting you to win your first EU funded project!

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uks-participation-in-horizon-2020-september-2016

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/news/outcome-referendum-united-kingdom

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-philip-hammond-guarantees-eu-funding-beyond-date-uk-leaves-the-eu

The Teaching Excellence Framework

Written by Kelly Coate & Rebecca Browett, King’s Learning Institute 

This year, King’s entered the Teaching Excellence Framework, which is a government initiative designed to recognise, reward and improve teaching in higher education. The TEF has generated much controversy across the sector, partly because it is linked to an increase in tuition fees, and as such it was the subject of discussion at a Governing Council meeting earlier this year. The decision taken by Council was for King’s to participate in TEF in order to help shape its future development, which we are in the process of doing.

The TEF focuses on three areas of our education provision: teaching quality; the learning environment; and student outcomes. The core metrics are based on NSS scores, non-continuation rates, and the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey data. In addition we produced a 15 page ‘Provider Submission’ (which can be read here: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/learningteaching/kli/Teaching-Excellence-Framework/KCL-TEF2-Provider-Submission.pdf) to be assessed alongside the metrics. In May we will find out whether the panel of assessors have awarded King’s a bronze, silver or gold ranking.

Key issues for King’s were that London Russell Group institutions tend not to do well on the NSS in general, so although we were in good company in terms of where we came out in the metrics, we did have to consider whether it was worth engaging in a process in which we lacked some confidence. The other key issue was the decision of the Students’ Union to disengage with the process, which we understood and respected. You can read the joint university and KCLSU statement about TEF here: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/newsevents/news/newsrecords/2017/01-January/Joint-university-and-KCLSU-statement-on-TEF.aspx

While we await the panels’ assessment of the King’s submission, we have time to consider what the likely impact might be on the sector, the institution and individual staff. For researchers, the TEF might seem to be irrelevant. Yet for an institution such as King’s that promotes the synergies between research and teaching, there are many reasons why we would want to ensure that TEF and REF are not two completely separate entities. Certainly TEF has the potential, when they get the metrics right, to focus our attention and energy on improving the education experience for students, articulating better what is distinctive and valuable about education at King’s (including how research enhances teaching and vice versa), and recognising and disseminating excellence where it exists.

Get your Voice Heard on the REF 2021

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui 

The implementation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014 is thought to have strengthened best practice in the way research is assessed. One probably unintended consequence was that it resulted in unease for many members of research staff trying to break into the Academy. The REF has seen universities placing expectations on research staff in their recruitment practices similar to those associated with senior academics, such as requiring hopeful job candidates to have already whipped up a certain number of REF ready outputs, or be working tirelessly towards delivering them by the end of their probationary period if offered a post. These might seem to be practically Herculean feats as the volatile nature of research staff contracts often entails constantly scouring for new jobs, as well as teaching and short-term research project commitments, leaving limited time to engage in the independent research called upon for the REF.

The REF isn’t all doom and despair though. It has also brought about positive change, with many research staff reporting that it has encouraged them to start factoring public engagement and impact initiatives into their careers early on. This is also aligned to several guiding principles of King’s Strategic Vision 2029.

In the run up to the second REF in 2021, the President of the British Academy, Lord Stern, conducted a review of the REF and made a recommendation to block the portability of research outputs – A recommendation which if approved would mean that research outputs would not be transferable to other institutions. This has added to existing anxiety, with publications often viewed as the golden ticket to move to different institutions as contracts end, and to ultimately secure a permanent academic position. If the recommendation proceeds, it has been suggested that research staff should be exempted from it.

King’s is currently participating in the university-wide consultation for REF 2021 and invites your views, particularly on three main areas:

  • The Stern non-portability recommendation;
  • The approach to research impact;
  • Which members of research staff should be included in the REF.

Members of the Research Staff Representative Committee, comprised of faculty representatives from across the university, will be feeding into the consultation through King’s. Have you got something to say about the areas of consultation? Contact your faculty representative to get your views across before the deadline of February 28th 2017. Though the final specifications for the REF 2021 will not be shaped by King’s alone, your voice as King’s research staff community is paramount to both the university’s consultation, as well as the wider national position on it.

Assessing the Changing Research and Innovation Landscape

Written by Daniel Cremin, Head of External Affairs & Government Relations, King’s College London

Game-changing developments from Whitehall can be like buses – you can often wait for years, and then 3 or 4 tend to turn up in very close proximity.

Recent months have heralded significant developments with long-term implications for King’s and the wider UK science and research landscape.

After several months, in the immediate post-Brexit period, of making positive but non-committal noises about the importance of science and innovation, Theresa May’s reformulated Government opted to decisively put its money where its mouth is at the Autumn Statement in December 2016.

To the surprise of many in the research world, who had expected a more modest increase in investment, the Government revealed that science and research would be a cornerstone feature of its revitalised industrial strategy. This made it one of the biggest winners from its decision to step back from the strictures of austerity and borrow more to drive economic development more widely across the UK.

The additional funding, awarded as part of a broader National Productivity Fund that will also support additional investment in infrastructure projects and skills development, will deliver an extra £4.7 Billion for research across the period of 2016-17 to 2020-21. The specific funding calls have not been announced but it is expected that they will cover research in all disciplines.

An increase in this level hasn’t been seen in the UK since the 1980s and is truly exciting as it brings with it enormous potential to enrich the research endeavour through the delivery of new technologies and laboratories, as well as supporting initiatives to bolster the impact and global connectivity of the research community.

The details of how the additional funding will be allocated won’t emerge until after the Budget in March, but present intelligence indicates that a significant amount of the funding will be directed through the tradition dual funding streams of the Research Councils and the REF-linked QR block grant institutional allocations. Place is likely to feature more acutely in the decision-making process in future.

As part of the Autumn Statement the Government indicated that some of the additional funding would be specifically targeted at helping to catalyse university-industry collaboration to advance the UK’s strengths in relation to both existing and nascent technologies which offer high-growth potential.

The Government has swiftly followed up with the publication of the Industrial Strategy Green Paper in mid-January, and an accompanying consultation exercise on a proposed Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to be managed by UK Research and Innovation.

In addition to 8 core challenge areas which largely map to, but slightly expand thematically on, the Government’s already established 8 Great Technologies framework, Innovate UK and the Research Councils are using the consultation to seek views on two additional potential thematic areas, shown beneath the green line in the diagram below.

The other big development, with potentially long-term implications, was the announcement on 2nd February that the Government’s present Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, will become the first Chief Executive of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI). He will establish the organisation in shadow form across 2017, with the first set of HEFCE and Research Council staff expected to transfer by summer, before UKRI becomes fully operational in April 2018.

This is a significant appointment as Sir Mark, a former Chief Executive of Wellcome Trust, has long advocated that a greater share of the science and research budget should be concentrated on supporting major national and international scientific hubs and infrastructure initiatives.

Although he is an advocate of universities playing a key role in the driving excellence in both pure and applied research, there is the potential that his stewardship of UKRI – which will without doubt be a powerful super-agency – could lead to some notable changes in the way the Research Councils allocate funding for major awards, fellowships and doctoral training in the next few years.

He is also a strong advocate of bolstering investment in smart cities technologies as well as research and development activity in relation to sustainable urbanisation and low carbon energy storage, so these could well be significant beneficiaries over time as a result of his tenure. You may find “Technology and Innovation Futures”, a report issued by the Government Office for Science Sir Mark oversees an interesting read.

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