THE FUTURE OF EQUAL
66. What is or could be the future of EQUAL? To some
extent this has already been determined by the Government since
some plans from the original phase are continuing and some new
decisions have recently been taken.
67. The EPSRC told us that it plans further calls
on rehabilitation and design for all;
Professor Baker said that the BBSRC will probably have a second
call for proposals under SAGE either in 2001 or 2002 if the quality
research is there. The ESRC told us that there is a possibility
of another programme of work in the EQUAL area, though no firm
decision had yet been taken.
Lord Sainsbury stated, in line with these plans, that EQUAL would
continue for at least another three years (though he would not
commit himself to predict its life expectancy).
We note that the report of the Foresight Ageing Population Panel
calls for EQUAL to be repeated on an expanded basis across the
Research Councils and other research funders.
It is important that the disappointing performance of EQUAL to
date be taken into account in planning for the future.
68. Earlier this year a new National Forum to co-ordinate
UK Ageing Research was established. This involves the MRC, the
EPSRC, the ESRC, the BBSRC and the Department of Health. Its aims
are to stimulate and facilitate multi-disciplinary working, and
to develop research activities, particularly across Research Councils'
boundaries. Professor Alan Walker, currently co-ordinating the
ESRC's Growing Older programme, has been appointed to develop
the strategy for the new co-ordinated approach and the establishment
of an Ageing Research Funders' Forum. It should be noted, however,
that the press release which announced these developments made
no mention of EQUAL. These plans certainly go some way towards
addressing a number of the problems identified with EQUAL and
the suggestions made to improve it. We welcome the plans "to
develop a co-ordinated approach to ageing research following the
termination of the AgeNet initiative" and the establishment
of the Ageing Research Funders' Forum.
69. Nevertheless, we do not consider that these plans
go far enough. We recommend
co-ordination of activities across Government;
(b) the development
of a considered strategy with specific objectives;
(c) transfer of
lead responsibility for EQUAL to the Government Department with
the main responsibility for ageing, probably the Department of
research funding for EQUAL, co-ordinated by the OST;
(e) greater encouragement
for the Research Councils to work together, particularly to prevent
undesirable overlap in research effort;
and reduction of research gaps. This should include an examination
of overseas research as well as that taking place in the UK;
(g) better assessment
of the balance of research between different topics;
of research priorities within the EQUAL programme;
(i) increased efforts
to stimulate research in priority areas;
(j) the development
of a means of evaluating the effectiveness and value of EQUAL.
70. The Foresight Ageing Population Panel told us
that a more structured EQUAL programme "could be exactly
the vehicle to further research objectives and take forward concepts
identified through the Foresight process".
It would also be crucial to increasing the effectiveness of the
EQUAL programme itself. We recommend wider networking beyond
the Research Councils in order to input ideas from the user communities
(including business, Government departments, older people and
their representative organisations), and the research community.
71. As the DGRC told us "we probably need to
work just as hard [at] developing the customer community for some
of the outputs of this research".
Similarly Lord Sainsbury stated that greater emphasis was needed
on making certain that other Government departments and other
users picked up the research findings and fed them into their
policies and actions,
and that this should in part come from the Inter-Ministerial Group
on Older People and Foresight. We agree. We recommend that
a greater emphasis be placed on dissemination of ageing-related
research findings to relevant user communities and on the translation
of findings into policy and practice.
72. We have considered the option of creating an
institution concerned exclusively with funding research into ageing
and age-related issues. The concept of such topic-specific research
funding bodies is not new; they are a feature of the research
funding system in the United States for example, where there is
a National Institute on Aging, which exists under the auspices
of the National Institutes of Health. We have recommended a National
Cancer Research Institute in a previous Report.
However the problems associated with old age and an ageing population
are of a different nature; they span an extremely broad spectrum
of issues of which health is just one, and many branches of science,
engineering and technology must become engaged. Moreover, there
are many aspects of research which offer the potential to improve
quality of life for older people but which are also beneficial
to other sections of society. The Ageing Research Funders' Forum
should ensure greater co-ordination of research. Therefore, we
do not consider that it would be appropriate to create a specific
ageing-relating research funding body.
73. The plans announced earlier this year will go
some way to meeting our concerns but they do not constitute the
forceful and committed determination required to make a significant
impact on one of the most important issues facing this country.
Professor Lansley also told us that, without a genuine commitment
to the future of EQUAL, there was a risk of "the closing
of ranks by the science community against ageing research".
We recommend that specific plans be drawn up for the future
of EQUAL, with agreed objectives and clear bench marking and dedicated
funding for the co-ordination of the programme.
118 Q 10. Back
Q 16. Back
Qq 161and 162. Back
Report of the Foresight Ageing Population Panel, The Age Shift
- Priorities for Action, December 2000. Back
Evidence, p 88. Back
Q 121. Back
Q 146. Back
Sixth Report from the Science and Technology Committee, Cancer
Research - A Fresh Look, Session 1999-2000, HC332. Back
Evidence, p 88. Back