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June 10, 2010

IT review leaves doubts over future of outcomes project

The Research Councils UK’s Research Outcomes Project has been put on hold while the government reviews its IT projects, members of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators were told at their annual meeting in Manchester on 9 June. However, RCUK still intends to create a new outputs collection system despite there already being an existing system developed by one of its own members, the Medical Research Council.

The ROP system is intended to collect information about the outcomes and impacts arising from projects funded by all seven research councils. RCUK says that this single harmonised process will replace the diversity of collection methods currently in use across the research councils, allowing them to demonstrate the impact of cross-council programmes.

One unified system would also reduce the workload for academics and administrators at universities, says RCUK. But some ARMA members query whether this reduced workload will emerge, when RCUK expects academics to enter the information themselves on a regular basis for potentially decades after the end of their project.

A business case for ROP was approved over a year ago and RCUK issued an invitation to tender in April 2010, but the process has been delayed due to the government review. A decision on whether the project will go ahead or not is expected for some weeks.

For recipients of MRC funding, its eVAL system has already been implemented with the same purpose as ROP. While university administrators clearly want a unified system, they also pushed RCUK to modify one of the existing systems rather than creating a completely new system at great cost to the tax-payer. However, when challenged, Alan Green project manager of the RCUK outputs and outcomes collection project, said “European Law means we have to go out to tender.”

Even with pressure to harmonise processes across the research councils, it is not clear if universities can expect to see one single collection system soon. While the project remains on hold during the government review, Green said “councils agree we should be working on the same IT system, but it will take a number of years for all seven councils to come on to it.”

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