Help steer the Research Councils

Alexandra Saxon is Head of Communications at Research Councils UK.

Each year the Research Councils invest around £3 billion in UK research

On Monday, Research Councils UK announced that six of the Research Councils were looking to fill vacancies on their governing Councils.  It probably isn’t the most engaging of our announcements but it could be classed as one of the most important.  Why? 

Role of the Councils

The Councils are the main governance mechanism for the Research Councils so are at the heart of what we do.  They make key decisions on all the important issues facing the Councils. The Councils set corporate strategy, including monitoring strategic objectives and targets; they take major decisions on resource usage; and they also help to make senior appointments in the executive teams.

The people who make up this vital governance group are the people who will make decisions about the strategic direction of the individual Research Councils over the coming years.  The Council is accountable to the Government and Parliament for the activities of the Research Council, its stewardship of public funds, and the extent to which key performance targets and objectives have been met. Day-to-day responsibilities are delegated to the Research Council Chief Executive who is also its Accounting Officer.

Funding Squeeze

I think it is safe to say that we have seen “interesting times” for the Research Councils over the last few years with the economic downturn and a spending review that reflected the financial situation of the country.  Although the contribution of UK research to growth is broadly acknowledged, the size of the research budget in future spending review rounds is by no means guaranteed.  With terms of membership for Council appointees lasting for three or four years, the people appointed to Councils now will be making key decisions for the Research Councils as spending decisions are made and as the next round of strategic plans and delivery plans are formulated.

It could be argued that some of the best supporters of the UK research base will be those that have a good appreciation of it and many of the Research Councils will be looking to recruit academic members to their governing Councils.

Broad Membership

To reflect the fact that the users of research come from a diverse spread of audiences, there are also non-academic members that are being sought.  These could be people from business and industry, across every sector reflecting the differing focus of each of the Research Councils, or it could be people with backgrounds in the voluntary, charitable or public sector.

In order to have the best advice and expertise to draw on, the governing Councils need to have broad make-up in the experience that the members bring with them.  But it is also important that there is a broad regional distribution and gender balance on the Councils to ensure that a broad mix of views can be heard.

The governing Councils are supported by, depending on the Research Council, a network of committees and advisory panels whose membership are also drawn from across academia and the users of research.  The panels and committees ensure that the governing Councils don’t work in a vacuum but can take into account appropriate evidence and advice in their decision making.

It is easy to look at decisions made by others and criticise.  But, by getting involved in the decision-making processes of the Research Councils, you can help to make informed decisions and support them in achieving their missions in these challenging times.

How to Apply

If this has whetted your appetite to get involved in the governance of the Research Councils, I would strongly suggest that you consider these vacancies.  Each of the Research Councils has more information on their websites (which are linked to from the RCUK announcement) including the areas of expertise that they are particularly looking for applicants to provide.  These are public appointments made by the Minister for Universities and Science. The closing date is 19th November and there will be interviews in early February.


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