UK researchers are to get more cash and a simpler grant system, after a budget overhaul at the Medical Research Council (MRC).
The changes, which many researchers have been demanding for years, were announced on 13 February by Colin Blakemore, the MRC's chief executive. Blakemore, a neurobiologist, arrived to run the council from the University of Oxford last October.
In the financial year starting this April, the MRC will have £144 million (US$270 million) for competitive grant proposals, up from £124 million this year. And instead of having to apply in large, cooperative groups, investigators can go it alone.
Some researchers, and the House of Commons' science and technology committee, had criticized the old scheme, developed under Blakemore's predecessor George Radda (see Nature 422, 461; 2003).
The new policy is a huge improvement, says David Price, a physiologist at the University of Edinburgh. The cooperative arrangement was “incredibly bureaucratic”, he says. “Now we can think about the science we have in mind, rather than looking through the MRC schemes and modifying our science to suit them.” Radda declined to comment on the change.
The MRC, the second-largest of the seven UK research councils, will provide fewer types of grants, but will offer more flexibility in their size and duration. Grants will vary from two to five years, and Blakemore hopes there will be a shortening of the application process from 26 to between 20 and 22 weeks.
Blakemore says that scientists and universities were consulted extensively in drawing up the reforms. “It was clear that simpler and more flexible schemes were needed,” he says.
Large MRC projects, such as a planned genetic database called Biobank, won't be squeezed by the change, he adds. But some scientists say that they ought to be. “I am concerned about the way funding is skewed towards big projects,” says Jim Cohen of the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King's College, London.
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