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Taking Down the Red Tape: Changes to Reduce Bureaucracy in Research, Innovation & Higher Education

In today’s blog, Sophie Lowry, Strategic Research Executive in Edinburgh Research Office, writes about upcoming changes designed to help streamline the UK science funding system.

Examining the UK Government’s drive to reduce administrative processes, so-called ‘red tape’, can often seem like an opaque process; but the recent announcement focused on the post-covid research space gives us a chance to see how this initiative will directly affect the research community in more detail. The UK Government continues to press ahead with a strategy which places high level skills, as well as research and innovation at the heart of its recovery plan post-covid. I touched on some of this, of course, in my last blog. Recognising the importance that university research plays in response to the coronavirus crisis, the UK Government is “determined to help refocus resources on the core essential activities of research and teaching”.(1) In order to achieve this, there will be a drive across the entire UK research and innovation landscape to combat what is considered the ‘major growth in bureaucracy over recent decades’ – the so-called ‘red tape’.  The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) policy paper suggests that some of these changes will come into effect immediately whilst others will be reviewed over the coming months.

Changes to UKRI Processes

Perhaps most significant for UK-based researchers are the ways in which UKRI plans to cut red tape across its processes and procedures. This initiative builds on work already underway across UKRI, including, for example, changes to the way investigators demonstrate impact within their grant applications. As detailed in its press release, changes will include:

  • Simplifying the eligibility criteria for organisations to apply for UKRI funding;
  • Streamlining the 200+ grant schemes (including moving to single institutional Impact Acceleration Accounts);
  • A new fully-digital grants application system;
  • For Standard Research Grant rounds, applications will go through a two-stage process, with applicants providing only information required to make a funding decision up front then following up with further information necessary to make a full award;
  • A new format for providing CV and track record information, largely based on the Royal Society’s Resume for Researchers;
  • Harmonising reporting requirements across UKRI and if possible with other funders;
  • Reviewing end of award reporting (e.g. the use of and process for Final Expenditure Statements);
  • Reviewing the approach to and use of TRAC, with particular focus on research aspects and accurately capturing the true costs of research and innovation.

Response from NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) also announced changes to its processes designed to help researchers focus on research, not red tape.  Some of these are outlined below:

  • Deleting redundant clauses from the standard NIHR contract;
  • Decreasing the length of the stage 1 funding application form from 17 to 6 pages;
  • Consider ways to make peer review of funding applications more proportionate;
  • Reviewing eligibility criteria for all funding streams, including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats. As such for both NIHR infrastructure awards and for Integrated Academic Training (IAT) posts, NIHR will no longer require academic partners to hold a Silver Award of the Athena Swan Charter but rather to provide evidence of broader commitment to gender equality principles.

In addition to the changes highlighted above affecting research-specific policies, the announcement also mentions significant changes to the way in which the Office for Students, the English Higher Education regulator, will undertake its enhanced monitoring processes. There will also be a ‘radical, root and branch review’ of the National Student Survey (NSS), the UK-wide survey of students and an expectation that this review will be completed by the end of 2020.

The policy paper also highlights ‘…the potential of open research practices’, suggesting the research sector should engage with more ‘modern methods of peer review and evaluation’ and ‘drive up the integrity and reproducibility of research’, all ideas that were previously touched upon within the UK Government’s Research and Development Roadmap.

As with any other significant policy changes relating to the grant application process, Edinburgh Research Office will continue to update our resources as more details are released.

Further information and resources

For more information on the roadmap, see the previous blog post “Thoughts on the UK Research and Development Roadmap”.

To find out more about how the Edinburgh Research Office can help you win research funding, visit our website.


1.Policy paper, Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education. Published 10 September 2020. P3

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