Andrew's main responsibility is to lead EPSRC's strategic interactions with the university sector who deliver much of the research we fund, and to lead EPSRC’s Delivery Planning process. Originally from Surrey, Andrew splits his spare time between taxiing his teenage twin boys (to and from football training), cycling and Chairing the Board of Governors of a local primary school.
What have you been working on recently?
Recently my main focus has been in developing the framework of the new EPSRC Delivery Plan, which was published at the beginning of May. This sets out our plans for 2016/17 - 2019/20 with the central intention being for our investments to support four inter-linked outcomes. In March the Government announced the funding which has been allocated for science and technology for the next four years and our task has been to consider how this funding will be taken forward into research, training and impact activities and capital projects.
I also manage the EPSRC relationships with universities to understand better their needs and how these align with EPSRC’s priorities, so that we can hopefully get the science funded that meets the needs of both the universities and the UK. These relationships are key to the success of our Delivery Plan and we’ve been engaging our communities throughout the delivery plan development process. Previously I was the Head of the Physical Sciences team at EPSRC and it was essential to work very closely with the wider academic community. It was my responsibility to develop relationships, bring together different information streams to inform policy and enable the physical sciences community to make the best of our funding opportunities, whilst maintaining EPSRC’s core values and requirements. Essentially my role now is to fulfil a similar role but at a corporate level.
How does this funding for science and technology impact EPSRC in the long-term?
It’s important to ensure EPSRC is sensitive to the wider financial environment and that we continue to operate as efficiently as possible. We are already aware that it’s a very competitive environment and we’ve had to think hard about what we are going to be able to deliver and match it to the research opportunities and projects that are coming up. As a Research Council we have to continually scan the research horizon and listen to the community, so over the long-term it’s essential we continue to be adaptable and responsive. I’m proud to say, a core strength for EPSRC is our flexible investment approach, and in our new Delivery Plan we’ll maintain a programme of long-term, excellent research where the emphasis is on investigator-led ideas.
What are the key features you aim to implement via the Delivery Plan in the next four years?
Looking ahead, this Delivery Plan has a much stronger focus on long-term outcomes with an emphasis on creating outputs for the UK. To simplify the complex landscape, EPSRC has brought together our proposed activities under the four EPSRC outcomes of a productive, connected, resilient and healthy nation. They are key to ensuring engineering and physical sciences are supported and represented in all areas of society including public policy and decision makers, industry, and the public in addition to academic researchers.
It’s going to be a combination of listening to the community and developing our ambitions through opportunities that enable us to deliver these outcomes with integrity.
How do you know what areas of science to encourage in the future?
EPSRC relies on its scientists and engineers to develop high quality proposals as judged by peer review. However, as a funder with limited resources we look to encourage proposals in areas where future opportunities look interesting. These could arise from community meetings, international activity, market failure, etc. For example in 2014 EPSRC Quantum Technology Hubs were created as part of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme; a national network (building on the UK’s strong research position) exploring the properties of quantum mechanics and how they can be harnessed for use in technology. These hubs are already contributing significantly to a variety of research areas as quantum science is being used to advance technologies in measurement, security, computing, imaging and sensing. Projects to develop superfast cameras that can see round corners, ultra-sensitive gravity sensors that can find oil and gas reservoirs and unbreakable encryption systems that can detect eavesdropping of optical fibres have all been linked to the research outputs of the Quantum Technology Hubs.
It would be impossible to predict these research outputs in the early stages but setting a trajectory of the research capability/key areas required for the future is a vital tool in ensuring the future competitiveness of the UK.
The trajectory is developed through continuous communication with the research community and currently we are running a ‘call for evidence’, part of the Balancing Capability strategy within our Strategic Plan. This is an opportunity for our community to contribute to our suggested research areas for the future.
We also aim to have top down input to our research themes and we achieve this through our continuous work with our Strategic Advisory Teams, Strategic Advisory Networks and the EPSRC College. Their input is vital to ensure we support a diverse range of researchers and research groups.
It’s about balancing all of these things to produce an efficient, effective and realistic work plan that enables my EPSRC colleagues to support the research community to deliver excellent research, so that together we can achieve economic and societal returns on UK science investments.