Paul nurse review of the UK Research Councils


The review of the UK Research Councils by Paul Nurse was published on 19 November. The main recommendation was increasing the cross-council function of RCUK to create Research UK, which would strengthen strategy development, promotion of research, engagement with society and their voice to Government. Although it was mainly focused on research funding, there was some mention of support and development for researchers.

He described the functions of the Research Councils as: 

“To provide strategic leadership to the UK research endeavour, building and maintaining national research capability and international competitiveness for the benefit of society, by:

  • Advancing the frontiers of knowledge through investing in the highest quality research, and where necessary by employing researchers and running facilities, across and between the full breadth of disciplines;
  • Promoting the dissemination and translation of research, and supporting the training and career development of researchers, for the widest possible social and economic benefit; and
  • Engaging the public with research and advising Governments to inform national research strategy and priorities.”

As well as confirming the Research Councils’ strategic role in supporting researchers, he noted the importance of ensuring the diversity and flexibility of funding options to widen access and fund the best research wherever it is found. Specifically he highlighted doctoral training, flexible working and the transition to independent researcher/early group leader.

“Funding mechanisms should be available for researchers at all stages of a researcher’s career, including those working part-time or returning from a career break. It is particularly important that early stage independent research group leaders are able to access support at a time in their career when they may be at their most creative. This is needed to counteract the drift upwards in the career stage of researchers obtaining their first grant support.

Doctoral training programmes if too inflexibly applied can prevent graduate students being supervised by quality researchers who are not part of such programmes. Mechanisms should be in place to prevent this unfortunate outcome, by maintaining diversity in the support available for graduate students.“

He also suggested that the Councils provide opportunities for early career researchers to sit as observers on grant award panels to improve their understanding of the grant assessment process. Part-time secondments of senior researchers to the Research Councils should be considered to improve links and help with strategic discussions.