Archive for March 22, 2011

Beware the “Efficiency Factor” ..

Posted in Finance, Science Politics with tags , on March 22, 2011 by telescoper

That sigh of relief we all breathed when the flat-cash settlement for UK science funding was announced last October is now looking decidely premature. For one thing the rate of inflation has climbed to 5.5%, its highest level for 20 years. That’s going to be eating away at the money available for doing science at a much higher rate than we thought it would 6 months ago.

If that weren’t bad enough we now learn that the Dark Lords of the Treasury have been beavering away in the background to come up with a way of squeezing science still further, via so-called “efficiency savings”. Now they have announced their plans under the suitably Orwellian title Ensuring Excellence with Impact.

The full document is (probably deliberately) written in almost unreadable Treasury-speak; after all, you don’t want the lambs to know too much about their impending slaughter. Hidden amid the jargon, however, is a grim message. That grant money you thought you had might not be yours after all.

Some of what is written in the RCUK document was expected. For example, there will be no indexation of grants for the next two years as the public sector pay freeze bites. However, another part of the plan is to tackle the so-called “estates” and other “indirect costs”, the contribution Research Councils pay universities to support basic infrastructure. At the moment, universities cost this themselves. In fact, whenever I’ve applied for grants I have to leave this to other people to fill in as I have no idea how it is calculated. However, different Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) charge at vastly different rates. RCUK has noticed this and will henceforth place HEIs into efficiency groups, with the more expensive being the least efficient. Depending on which efficiency group your HEI is in, the indirect costs will be subject to a squeeze. In other words an “efficiency factor” will be applied.

But this won’t just apply to new grants. Cash you though you had already will be clawed back. Here is a quote from the summary:

To ensure that these changes to indirect cost rates do not present an administrative burden to research organisations, and reflecting the time it takes to prepare an application, existing grants will for this purpose be classed as those submitted via Je-S1 before 30th June 2011. Rather than apply reductions to each individual awarded grant, a top slice will be applied by the Research Councils to research organisations’ portfolio of funding after the 1st July 2011. The percentage of this indirect cost efficiency top slice will be dependent on the efficiency group that a research organisation is in.

Reduced rates of indexation will be used both as part of the efficiency factor for indirect costs and for other elements of grants that are indexed in line with current policies. Reduced rates of indexation for other elements of grants, other than the indirect costs element, will be introduced on 1st April 2011 in line with usual Research Council policies. The indexation changes will be greatest during the first two years to coincide with the period of Public Sector pay restraints, but will be gradually relaxed as the effect of savings being applied to new grants contributes greater efficiencies. The indexation savings will be applied to both new and existing grants. For new grants, new indexation rates will be used for grants awarded from 1st April. For existing grants that have been awarded with different indexation arrangement, i.e. those awarded on or by 31st March, the changes will become part of the “top-slice” by institution.

This is scary. It means money already in departmental and university budgets and used for future planning is going to disappear pretty quickly. How this is going help “Ensuring Excellence” I have no idea, but I have to admit it’s going to have some “Impact”.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.



Astrostatistics at NAM

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 22, 2011 by telescoper

I’m using the opportunity of my enforced layoff to remind astronomers that this year’s forthcoming Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting, incorporating the MIST and UKSP meetings, will be taking place at the splendid Venue Cymru conference centre, Llandudno, North Wales, from Sunday 17 April to Thursday 21 April.

The period for egistration has been extended , and you can now also submit abstracts of either oral or poster presentations to be considered for inclusion in the various sessions described in the science programme.

I’m organising a session on Recent Developments in Astro-statistics. I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed with offers to speak and there are still one or two slots available, so if you’d like to give a talk in that session please register and upload an abstract to the website. You can’t do the latter until you have done the former. Astro-statistics will be interpreted widely, so I hope to have a varied programme including as many applications of statistics to astronomy and astrophysics as I can get!

NAM is a particularly good opportunity for younger researchers – PhD students and postdocs – to present their work to a big audience so I particularly encourage such persons to submit abstracts. Would more senior readers please pass this message on to anyone they think might want to give a talk?

If you have any questions please feel free to use the comments box (or contact me privately).

Oh, and I should have mentioned that Andrew Jaffe is also touting for trade for the cosmology sessions he’s organising…


The Tables Turned

Posted in Poetry with tags , on March 22, 2011 by telescoper

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

by William Wordsworth (1770-1850).