Irish scientists have been worried for some time about an apparent lack of direction in the government's research policy, especially because of a fiasco with this year's budget which resulted in money earmarked for research not being distributed. Treacy is now trying to address these concerns through the working group. "I am conscious that there is a great deal of concern at the level of funding for new basic research this year. In this regard, I am reasonably optimistic that this issue can be resolved, " he says. Meanwhile, the Irish Higher Education Authority has announced that it plans to spend an additional IR£5m on R&D this year. Most of the money - some IR£3.5m - will go on research grants, with the rest to be divided equally between studentships, short-term projects, and the humanities and social sciences.

The 2001 Research Assessment Exercise in the UK will judge the research quality of every university department, and will feature several improvements to the last exercise, which was carried out in 1996. Assessment panels will have to publish a report on each subject area and provide individual departments with confidential feedback on how they performed. Panels will also have to consult overseas researchers before giving any department top marks. Further consultation will now be held on how best to judge interdisciplinary research. The ratings are important because they affect how much money universities receive from the UK's funding councils.