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NIHR responds to the Government’s call for further reduction in bureaucracy with new measures

Published: 10 September 2020

The NIHR is today announcing new measures as part of its ongoing work to reduce levels of bureaucracy for UK researchers.

In line with today’s wider announcement by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Department for Education (DfE) on a substantial reduction in research bureaucracy, the measures are designed to free up and support NIHR researchers to focus on ground-breaking research that tackles health and care challenges.

A two stage process has been designed to ensure delivery of some immediate changes. These include deleting redundant clauses from the standard NIHR research contract and reducing our stage 1 funding application form from 17 to 6 pages, with further reductions of the stage 2 form by the autumn.

In the coming months we will work alongside researchers, institutions and other funders to look at smarter approaches to research funding and evaluation, to reduce bureaucracy further. It is our intention to implement further changes in Autumn 2020.

Measures are expected to be implemented in the following areas:

  • Application process
  • Peer review
  • Contracting and compliance
  • Monitoring and reporting

Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research and Evidence at the Department of Health and Social Care, and co-lead for NIHR said:

“The bureaucracy busting measures announced today are a targeted attempt to get the best research moving as efficiently as possible while maintaining quality. Our experience with funding COVID-19 research has demonstrated the scope for progress”.

“They represent another strand in our ongoing work designed to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in impactful and timely health and care research”.

We are also reviewing our eligibility criteria for all funding streams, including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats. This review will take place in the context of NIHR’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Currently, NIHR requires academic partners applying for some NIHR infrastructure awards and for Integrated Academic Training (IAT) posts to have achieved the Silver Award of the Athena SWAN Charter to be eligible to receive designation and funding. This intervention has been very influential in changing the landscape in respect to gender equality.

After nine years, the positive impact of Athena SWAN is clear, and we believe that use of the charter has led to the greater embedding of gender equality practice. Moving forward, the focus for us will be on ensuring applicants provide evidence of their broader commitment to the principles of gender equality rather than on compliance with a specific standard. As such, NIHR will no longer require academic partners to hold a Silver Award of the Athena SWAN Charter.

As a research funder that is committed to actively and openly supporting and promoting all aspects of EDI, we are continuously looking to strengthen our approach to EDI. We will therefore be putting a greater emphasis on organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to demonstrate clearly their commitment to EDI broadly and to developing and maintaining a healthy research culture more generally. We will expect organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to be able to demonstrate their commitment to tackling disadvantage and discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act (2010). These are are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Applicants may still choose to evidence elements of this commitment through participation in Athena SWAN and we welcome Advance HE’s own work to reduce burden and streamline processes in the Athena SWAN Charter. We will continue to work closely with our partners in Advance HE on our continued focus on EDI.

We recognise that charters for equality continue to be useful tools for organisations that demonstrate good practice, as are the Concordats that support research integrity and the career development of researchers.


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