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BBSRC changes peer review, priorities and Institute funding arrangements

20 October 2008

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has today announced changes to the way its peer review committees are organised, the way new research and policy priorities are highlighted and a reorganisation of funding structures for its five sponsored Institutes.

The changes, which follow extensive consultation with the BBSRC research community, will ensure that BBSRC can promote and support excellent bioscience research to meet the challenges facing society and will better enable the Council to foster multi and interdisciplinary approaches.

The changes maintain the primacy of responsive mode, investigator-led proposals in the BBSRC funding landscape, do not alter the overall BBSRC remit and do not change the criteria that BBSRC peer review committees use to allocate funding.

The changes, outlined to the BBSRC research community for the first time today at a roadshow in London, are:

  • The creation of four new research committees from the existing seven
  • The setting up of a mixed economy of peer review membership, including core committee members and a pool of reviewers able to be called on flexibly for their specific expertise
  • New research and policy priorities that will overarch all of BBSRC’s activities. The policy priorities will help BBSRC researchers to consider the strategic relevance of their proposals when they make applications
  • A system of highlight notices that BBSRC will use to generate demand when it identifies the need for more applications in certain areas
  • Institute Strategic Programme Grants to replace Core Strategic Grants to the BBSRC-sponsored Institutes

Applications submitted to the grant round that has just closed will continue to be reviewed using the old system. The first grants to be reviewed under the new system will be those submitted for the 14 January 2009 closing date.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell, said: "Since its creation BBSRC has been a leader in shaping the biosciences. The future of biology is increasingly interdisciplinary and our new structures are intended to deliver this. The four new committees will take in the whole BBSRC remit, which is not changing, but will be bigger and more flexible. With a pool of peer reviewers to complement a core of permanent members we will be able to make sure that we have very specific expertise available even when applications cross the boundaries of what were our old committee areas.

"The other big change is the creation of smaller number of policy and research priorities. These are intended to provide strategic focus for our community. The highlight notices will be used by BBSRC to call on researchers to submit applications in areas where we want to see more demand.

"These changes are not about abandoning responsive mode or about forcing researchers to work in industry. It is a fallacy that responsive mode research is only for blue skies or fundamental science. The criteria for peer review will not change. BBSRC will always fund excellent science. What we want the new system to do is to encourage our research community to think about the strategic focus of their applications and then ensure that when we fund excellent science we are able to capture the impact of the outcomes."

The new structures and systems should not change the content of the applications that researchers make to BBSRC. However, the Council wishes to ensure the change is as smooth as possible. For the next grant round (January 2009) the peer review committees will treat sympathetically applications written to meet the current priorities.

The implementation of Institute Strategic Programme Grants as the principal funding mechanisms for the BBSRC-sponsored Institutes will help to ensure that they deliver mission-led science around a number of strategic themes.

ENDS

Notes to editors

BBSRC consulted with its research community about proposed changes to its peer review system in autumn 2006.

The changes are being discussed with researchers in a series of community roadshows, starting on 20 October in London. Places on further roadshows, in Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester and Glasgow are available by contacting roadshows@bbsrc.ac.uk

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

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