You all heard the news by now, and I got more than my share of phone calls, emails and tweets informing me about it. Suzanne Fortier is to become the 17th Principal and Vice-Chancellor (President) of McGill University, effective early September, 2013, for a five-year term. In other words, Madame Fortier will stop being the President of NSERC, effective immediately. We wish her and all our colleagues at McGill well. But before she moves to the other (receiving) end of the divide, Dr Fortier will still have one more kick at the can of disrupting science and engineering funding policy. But it won’t be in Canada, this time around.
Indeed, the chairman of NSERC’s counterpart in the UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has just announced his decision to commission two independent reviews: one to look at how EPSRC obtains strategic advice to help it develop effective policies, and one to evaluate its overall peer-review processes.
The first review will be of EPSRC’s strategic advice routes. The Panel will conduct the review during spring 2013 and report its conclusions to the July Council meeting. It is comprised of:
- Dr Suzanne Fortier, President, NSERC Canada (Chair)
- Professor Richard Brook, President, AIRTO Ltd
- Sir David Wallace, Master of Churchill College, Cambridge
- Professor Helen Atkinson, Leicester University
What is remarkable is that Dr Paul Golby had been appointed EPSRC Chairman in April 2012 in order to deal with a revolt by UK scientists against policies introduced and implemented by the EPSRC chief executive, David Delpy. Golby writes that he had “spent his summer visiting universities and meeting researchers to better understand feelings within the community.”
A luxury for Canadians! But guess what!
“He found that the strongest concerns were that EPSRC is putting short-term impact ahead of academic excellence, that it is micromanaging the grant portfolio to achieve this, and not taking sufficient advice from active researchers.”
But for the life of me, weren’t these exactly the same concerns that the Canadian scientific community had expressed about Madame Fortier’s dirigisme at NSERC during the past six years?
More about this later, when we analyse in depth, Madame Fortier’s legacy at the helm of Canada’s largest granting agency for science and engineering.