BBSRC Delivery Plan 2011-2015

In line with other research councils, BBSRC released its Delivery Plan for 2011 – 2015 [PDF] just before the Christmas break. These documents set out the research councils’ strategic priorities for the next four years – i.e. the anticipated duration of the current Coalition government – and in particular they outline how research councils will respond to the austerity measures laid out in last October’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

The headlines from the BBSRC plan are:

  • Priority focus on three grand challenge areas (p5-8): Food Security (including crop yields, wheat breeding, resilience to livestock diseases, and reduction of greenhouse gases from agriculture); Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (including growth and jobs in a low carbon economy fuelled by bioenergy and biotechnology); Fundamental bioscience enhancing lives and improving wellbeing (including healthy ageing research and defence against infectious diseases).
  • Similar to the EPSRC’s shift from funder to “sponsor” of research, the BBSRC now wants to be viewed as an “investor” in research (p9). This shift will be marked by more “strategic partnerships” formed with key HEIs in the grand challenge areas listed above.
  • As per other research councils, the BBSRC seeks to increase concentration of its research funding. Currently 75% of its funding is concentrated in just 17 institutions, however by the end of the Comprehensive Spending Review period BBSRC anticipate 90% of research funding to be in fewer than 30 UK bioscience institutions (p10). This presumably includes their own funded research institutes and centres.
  • BBSRC will maintain funding for postgraduate training, but they are focusing on their strategic priority areas for their postgraduate funding. In addition, more high cost cutting edge research will be funded at the expense of others. CASE awards will be extended to “encourage a wider group of commercial partners” (p13) and the proportion of “user-led” studentships funded by BBSRC will be increased.
  • Of the cross-council research themes, BBSRC will continue to lead Global Food Security, and will play a significant role in Living with Environmental Change, Global Uncertainties, Energy and Lifelong Ageing. BBSRC’s involvement in these themes will be driven by its focus on the grand challenge areas listed above. BBSRC contribution to all these cross-council themes will either remain the same or increase slightly across the plan period (Table 2.3.1b, p14).
  • BBSRC will continue to work closely with the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and will invest £50M in complementary funding over the plan period to deliver economic impact from bioscience research. The following areas will be of particular interest: Agriculture and food; Regenerative medicine; Industrial biotechnology; and Emerging technologies and industry.
  • Securing economic impact is one of the key drivers in the Delivery Plan. One mechanism to ensure this receives extra emphasis is to expand the Follow On Fund to bridge the gap between basic science funded by BBSRC and commercialisation/tech transfer. BBSRC will also work to increase links with business and industry to “secure the impact of bioscience and ensure user needs influence our research and training priorities” (p18). Knowledge exchange is one of the only mechanisms to see its funding increased in the BBSRC’s financial plan (p21), from £20M/year currently to £30M/year by the end of the plan period.