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December 19, 2011

What Do You Think of EPSRC Policy?

Posted by Tom Leinster

This year has seen a dramatic deterioration in the relationship between mathematicians working in the UK and our main funding body, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Maybe you’ve read about it on Tim Gowers’s blog. Or maybe you’ve seen Burt Totaro’s roundup of strongly worded letters to the EPSRC and the government, from probably every learned society that has anything to do with British mathematics.

It’s depressing stuff, even if you’re not in the UK. Hopefully we’ll serve as an example to others, but there’s always the suspicion that policy changes in one country are part of a worldwide trend. Indeed, there seem to be resemblances to the situation in Canada — see, for instance, these posts by Nassif Ghoussoub (and the splendidly titled “UK mathematicians unload on intransigent patronizing bureaucracy”).

In a nutshell, the problems are that:

  1. EPSRC have made big changes in their funding policy after only cursory consultation with the community, and
  2. EPSRC are now choosing those areas of the mathematical sciences that they think most deserving of funding. (For example, EPSRC postdoctoral fellowships used to be available in all areas of the mathematical sciences. Now they’re only available in statistics and applied probability.)

And (2) splits further into:

  • EPSRC think anyone is capable of predicting which areas of mathematics will be important in the future, and
  • they think they are capable of predicting this.

Why am I writing about this here? Because a call for comments on EPSRC policy has just appeared on Burt Totaro’s blog, in the form of a guest post by Michael Singer (Edinburgh). Although this is a UK affair, it might be useful to hear comments from people in other countries who have been following this saga and would like to provide a view from the outside. Maybe you have experience of similar situations with your own funding bodies. I’ll turn off comments here, to encourage you to leave comments there.

Posted at December 19, 2011 9:09 PM UTC

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