Research Funding : Trends and Challenges

LW Chapters and other contributions, Research & Innovation

Leszek BORYSIEWICZ, University of Cambridge
Research — the generation or collection of knowledge — is of the greatest
importance. It can affect individual lives, society at large and even
the fate of our planet. Uncountable sums of money are spent, and usually
well spent, on moving forward our understanding of academic disciplines.
Researchers access these funds in a variety of ways and account for their use,
similarly, in a variety of ways. As each individual researcher knows painfully
well, obtaining funding is a competitive activity — many more grants are
sought than are awarded. And yet the effectiveness and efficiency of the various
methods of allocating research funding are not well understood. What
one might call “research about research” is thin on the ground. There is little
agreement even on the appropriate methodologies to use to track either efficiency
or effectiveness, and although the great majority of funds are dispensed
to scientists by scientists (the arts, humanities and social sciences requiring
less equipment and fewer consumables), it is in the social sciences that the
necessary methodologies are to be found. Scientific funding boards, by implication,
are not the best placed to rate their own success.
The principal thesis of this paper is that, in a context of poor data, trends
in research funding methods and objectives need tracking. These trends are
shaped by different funders, not necessarily acting with regard to each other,
and so the possibility arises that by pulling the trend line up and down different
axes, gaps can open up in provision.

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