Government Launches Review into UK Research Bureaucracy

The Government has announced the launch of an independent review involving the whole UK research community that will ultimately aim to remove bureaucracy for researchers, enabling them to maximise their time undertaking world-leading research.

The review was announced by Science Minister Amanda Solloway and will be led by Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor, University of Sussex. It was originally unveiled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson amongst a series of announcements on 27 January 2020, when he outlined: ‘a major review of research bureaucracy and methods, including unnecessary paperwork, arduous funding applications and research selection processes. This will free up and support the best researchers to focus on ground-breaking, ambitious and meaningful research.’

The overarching goal of the review will be to advise on a substantial reduction in burdensome research bureaucracy in government and the wider sector, with a particular focus on Higher Education Institutions and research organisations. It will aim to identify why bureaucracy has increased across the UK’s research system, and in turn provide recommendations to help reduce administrative demands.

The specific goals of the review will be to:

  • Identify the reasons behind real and perceived growth in research bureaucracy over recent decades.
  • Identify a wide range of specific reductions in overall research bureaucracy and in the bureaucratic tasks that researchers themselves undertake, which will be for government, funders and research organisations to consider and implement.
  • Ensure that government can continue to fulfil the requirement at an appropriate level of aggregation that can demonstrate impact and value for public money spent on research and provide evidence to support efficient and effective future investment.
  • Support the wider UK research system to work more productively.
  • Identify effective funding models, processes and infrastructure, whether existing or new, that will support the UK research environment to be more dynamic, diverse and transparent.
  • Ensure mandatory national security considerations and the protections in Trusted Research are embedded in research.

Practical solutions that could be addressed include complicated grant forms requiring substantial financial knowledge, a lack of clarity over funding available to researchers, and the need to provide data numerous times in different formats to different funders.

The review follows steps taken in September 2020 by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the National Health Institute for Research (NIHR) and the Office for Students (OfS) to reduce bureaucracy in the university research and teaching system. This included streamlining over 200 UKRI grant schemes and introducing a digital grants application system to speed up submissions.

Professor Adam Tickell said:

‘I am very pleased to have been asked to lead this review of such great importance to my colleagues in the sector and to the UK as a whole. I am looking forward to engaging across the research community to get a complete picture of the issues from all perspectives and in coming up with ways to improve the way our systems work. Ultimately, this should translate to making a real difference to the work of our research teams and that will be the true test of whether we have succeeded.’

The independent review will conclude in early 2022, with interim findings published in autumn 2021. Recommendations will aim to ensure researchers can continue to demonstrate impact and value for money while supporting the UK research environment, particularly higher education institutions, to be more streamlined, dynamic, diverse and transparent.