Position Paper: Strengthening Research Infrastructures
Eastern Arc is supportive of the work currently being undertaken to support the development and funding of infrastructure, but would encourage the government to consider smaller, more agile funding for regional consortia to open up access to their existing equipment and resources. It should also support the crucial national infrastructure around ‘open science’.
This position paper is based on our response to the government’s proposals in its R&D Roadmap. Our full response can be found here.
Eastern Arc recognises the considerable work that has been undertaken by UKRI and others in identifying current research infrastructure, and how it should grow in the medium to long-term. It is supportive of the establishment of the Infrastructure Advisory Committee (IAC), and the breadth of its remit.
We believe that this is the right direction to be taking for future investment in research infrastructure. However, we would caution and advise the government to take note of the needs and potential of the regions and subregions of the UK, identified through the Place Strategy, when making further investments.
In addition, we would encourage the government to provide support for cross-institutional sharing of the research infrastructure that exists within individual universities. A number of regional consortia have identified equipment that could be shared, but there has been relatively little subsequent activity in this area.
Support for this activity would enable wider access and use of existing infrastructure at relatively little cost. Funding could include travel and subsistence costs, replacement teaching costs, technical training, reagents and other consumables, and access fees.
To simplify the process, the funding should take the form of a ‘block grant’ to a regional consortium (such as Eastern Arc, N8, GW4 or Midland Innovation) to administer, based on the equipment available and the capacity it has to be used by others.
Furthermore, this could be extended to encourage the sharing of equipment between regional consortia, enabling a more ‘joined up’ – or ‘levelled up’ – national provision.
The overall grants would be small when compared to those provided for new equipment, but they would have a significant impact, helping to move the centre of gravity for strategic, large equipment away from the traditional metropolitan hubs by removing a significant barrier to access.
In addition, the government should support the less visible but crucial national infrastructure on open research and innovation. This includes, but is not limited to open access, open data, and interoperability. Not only would this be more efficient, it would help with issues around impact, innovation and engagement.