Important News from STFC

Donning my community service hat,  I’ll just pass on some important news from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) concerning Astronomy research grants. The message is contained in an email that has been circulated concerning the new grant system and you can also find it at Paul Crowther’s website here. I urge all astronomers to read the text in full. I believe separate instructions are going out to particle physics and nuclear physics groups concerning their grants.

The main points are that:

  • The new system of consolidated grants will be implemented for the forthcoming deadline (7th April 2011).
  • There will be no more standard grants.
  • Detailed guidance on how to apply the consolidated grants is not yet available.

A lot of questions remain to be answered, such as how on Earth people are going to be able to write a big proposal in the short time available when there are as yet no proper instructions, how groups with several existing grants will go about consolidating them when they all have different start and end dates, how the consolidated grants will be assessed, etc.

Also, it is now clear that results of the existing grant round (for grants due to start in April 2011) will not be forthcoming until January at the earliest, so that Swindon Office will be trying to sort out the new system at the same time as trying to complete the last round of the old one.

The combinations of delays to this round with the hasty implementation of a drastically different scheme for the next round is bound to cause a lot of problems both for STFC staff and researchers wanting to apply for grants, not to mention the Astronomy Grants Panel (of which I am a member).

The main purpose of this change is to save administrative costs at STFC, but it seems to me the main effect will be transfer an increased burden to universities, at least in the short term. Once again everything’s being done by the seat of the pants, with a complete lack of joined-up thinking.

Please don’t shoot the messenger, or anyone else on the AGP!


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3 Responses to “Important News from STFC”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sylvia McLain and Paul Crowther, Peter Coles. Peter Coles said: Important News from STFC: http://wp.me/pko9D-29b […]

  2. Interesting line in one of the THES articles linked from PAC’s webpage:

    “Excluding figures for the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which are not regarded as comparable to those of the other councils, the overall research council success rate remains at last year’s figure of 23 per cent, an all-time low.”

    Peter – would you like to comment on the success rate for STFC grants?

  3. telescoper Says:

    The figures on that page are for 2009/10, when I wasn’t on the AGP, but using the figures from STFC’s webpage:

    http://www.stfc.ac.uk/webstatistics/stfcStatistics.aspx?m=Success_Rates&s=n#i114

    You can see that the success rate by grant is fairly high but most of the successful grants got much less money than they requested. Given the preponderance of rolling grants this is a silly way of counting. For example, a rolling grant requesting 6 PDRAs which is awarded only 1 is counted a 100% success.

    A better measure is to work out (total funding awarded)/(total funding requested). I did that quickly with the table, and its about 25%.

    Exactly in line with the other RCs.

    If you look at the standard grants in the table at

    http://www.stfc.ac.uk/webstatistics/stfcStatistics.aspx?m=Success_Rates&fy=0910#i105

    Then you’ll see that the success rate is about 25% by number, but the success rate by cash will be lower.

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