No. 11 of Session 2004-05 20 December 2004


The Work of the Economic and Social Research Council

Monday 20 December 2004

Today the Science and Technology Committee will publish its First Report of Session 2004B05, The Work of the Economic and Social Research Council (HC 13). The Report examines the work, strategy and expenditure plans of ESRC, as part of the Committee'=s ongoing programme of scrutiny of the Research Councils.

The Committee reported that ESRC has for the most part been managing its funds sensibly and commended ESRC’s “pro-active approach to seeking ways to improve its own performance”. The Committee welcomed the steps taken by ESRC to strengthen its engagement with its research and user communities. In particular, it praised ESRC’s recent stakeholder consultation on its new strategic framework and future priorities and noted that the “positive feedback from the social science community” was “a credit to the Council”.

However, the Committee identified a need for ESRC to “respond without delay to the calls from its community to increase significantly the proportion of responsive mode funding” and concluded that this should be achieved, in part, by decreasing the amount of funding committed to Research Centres. The Committee also urged ESRC to follow the example of other Research Councils in introducing a fund to support new investigators. In addition, the Report reiterated the need for Research Councils to work together to ensure that excellent proposals for interdisciplinary research receive the funding that they deserve.

The Committee noted the disquiet caused by ESRC’s decision to move towards a quota system for allocation of some studentships and called for ESRC to continue to award a significant number of studentships through open competition. The Committee also expressed concern about the skills shortages afflicting quantitative social science subjects, commenting that it was “hard to see how significant progress towards rectifying these shortages can be made through deployment of ESRC’s limited resources”. The Report recommends that “a national Strategic Capabilities Fund” be established “to address skills shortages and ensure national coverage in key subject shortage areas by building local capacity”.

The Chairman of the Committee, Dr Ian Gibson, said “ESRC is a hard working Council that has been doing a good job on the whole. It now needs to make sure that it gives academics more freedom instead of telling them what they can and can’t research. The best research ideas come from researchers themselves”.

For further information, please ring Ana Ferreira on 020 7219 2793

Previous press notices and publications are available on our website:

Notes for Editors

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Committee is empowered to examine the “expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Technology and its associated public bodies@. The Committee was appointed on 12 November 2001.

• The Committee announced this inquiry on 30 June 2004 (Press Notice No. 51 of Session 2003-04) and held one evidence session with representatives from ESRC on 20 October 2004.

Membership of the Committee

Dr Ian Gibson (Lab, Norwich North) (Chairman)
Mr Tony McWalter (Lab, Hemel Hempstead)
Paul Farrelly (Lab, Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Dr Andrew Murrison (Con, Westbury)
Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Geraldine Smith (Lab, Morecambe and Lunesdale)
Kate Hoey (Lab, Vauxhall)
Bob Spink (Con, Castle Point)
Dr Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton South East)
Dr Desmond Turner(Lab, Brighton Kemptown)
Mr Robert Key (Con, Salisbury)