Few people in the HE sector will be unaware of the competitiveness of winning capital investment from the Research Councils; especially since 2011 when the capital budgets of the Research Councils were reduced by about 50%. Following this reduction in capital budget Research Councils UK (RCUK) invested a small amount of money in projects aimed at developing tools that could help institutions and the community deal with this new landscape and increase sharing of equipment, with the ultimate aim of maximising usage. One of these projects was equipment.data at the University of Southampton.
Having been the RCUK/EPSRC contact for equipment.data for almost two years I have watched the service grow with more and more institutions contributing. The speed at which the volume of items of equipment being listed increases is heartening to watch. However, just because the service has been developed and is being used by some doesn’t reduce the need for us at RCUK to develop our policies further to maximise the reach and benefits of the service.
Within the EPSRC we have worked with the equipment.data team and the community in advancing and responding to the efficiency and sharing agenda. As part of this work we have asked the holders of our strategic equipment grants to report annually on a range of information including usage levels by group e.g. local, regional, national, international and industrial. This has given us a snapshot of usage across a range of equipment across the country, which we will hopefully see evolve over the years. With improvements to how such data is captured some of the data may compliment that on equipment.data providing useful added value to published equipment records.
EPSRC is also keen to reflect wider community developments. Following the “Efficiency, effectiveness and value for money” report by Sir Ian Diamond in February 2015 and the recommendation in it that equipment purchased using public funds should be registered on equipment.data; we now include a grant condition on EPSRC grants that any equipment over £138,000 purchased through the use of our funds should be discoverable via equipment.data. We have recently been working with our Council partners and will hopefully have a similar standard RCUK term and condition on all grants soon.
Hopefully these policy leavers will help grow equipment.data further embedding it as the first stop for anyone in the community looking for equipment. Through equipment.data researchers can identify the equipment that is in their own institution or elsewhere in the UK and start to have a discussion about the possibilities of sharing. EPSRC appreciate that sharing is not always appropriate or possible but due to the current capital competitiveness the possibility of sharing should be the first thing explored.
Dr Iain Larmour, EPSRC, Senior Portfolio Manager