Science Committee


Science Committee terms of reference


The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK’s leading public funder of environmental science.  We work with our research centres, higher education institutions, government, civil society and business to shape the direction of environmental research and innovation, fund cutting-edge discovery science and strategic research, and provide the training, skills and infrastructure the UK needs to remain at the forefront of environmental science. NERC’s long-term strategic ambitions and the next steps to delivery are published in the NERC delivery plan.

NERC is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a body that works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. UKRI aims to maximise the contribution of each of its nine constituent councils, working individually and collectively with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Purpose and scope

The Science Committee (SC) will bring broad strategic perspective and expertise to support the development and delivery of NERC strategic priorities, investments and policies.

The Committee will provide advice to the NERC Council and Executive on:

  1. how to support an excellent and sustainable UK environmental science community that seizes opportunities, in UKRI and international contexts, to achieve the following goals:
      • advance the frontiers of knowledge
      • address government, UKRI and NERC strategic priorities
      • deliver beneficial economic and social impacts
  2. priority areas for future rounds of NERC strategic research and innovation investment
  3. opportunities and priorities for future environmental research and innovation infrastructure, to inform capital investment planning by government, UKRI and NERC
  4. opportunities for UKRI partnership and investment
  5. commissioning, effectiveness and performance of NERC national capability investments
  6. commissioning, effectiveness and performance of other NERC investments including:
      • discovery science
      • strategic research and innovation
      • postgraduate training, fellowships and early career support
      • scientific infrastructure and capital
      • international partnership and subscriptions
  7. NERC funding policy for all of the above funding streams
  8. conduct, responsibility, sustainability and equality, diversity, inclusion (EDI) in relation to NERC investments.

The Committee will provide recommendations to Council for new NERC investment on:

  1. Strategic research and innovation programmes
    • to support Council’s analysis and decisions on priority areas for strategic investment
    • to assess submitted programme proposals against published criteria and recommend to Council which proposals should be funded by NERC
  2. Strategic research and innovation highlight topics
    • to assess submitted ideas for highlight topics against published criteria and decide: which ideas should go forward to a funding opportunity; and at what level of expenditure


The Science Committee consists of a non-executive Chair and up to 12 other members.

Members will declare any personal, private or commercial interests that might conflict with the interests of the NERC, and must withdraw from any discussion of topics in which they have such an interest.

Membership will reflect stakeholder interests, expertise requirements and diversity of talent across the breadth of NERC’s investment portfolio, including:

  • environmental research disciplines and innovation applications
  • environmental research and innovation provider communities
  • environmental research and innovation user communities, including business and policy
  • knowledge of the international landscape (including international research and innovation priorities and partnerships, funding organisations and funding systems)
  • strategic knowledge and subject matter expertise in research, innovation, training and capital infrastructure, or other experience of benefit to NERC’s mission

The NERC Executive Chair and NERC Directors (as appropriate to the agenda) will attend as ex officio members.

Additional experts may be invited to participate as required for specific activities, topics or meetings.

Appointment of members

Members will normally be appointed for a three-year period. Appointments will be staggered to maintain continuity of knowledge.

Science Committee members are appointed by the NERC Executive in line with HMT and Cabinet Office guidance, taking account of best practice in equality, diversity and inclusion. It is strongly encouraged to also consider geographical diversity when recruiting members.

All Science Committee members and other invited attendees should uphold the seven principles of public life:

  • selflessness
  • integrity
  • objectivity
  • accountability
  • openness
  • honesty
  • leadership


The quorum for a Science Committee meeting is at least half the number of its members.  Members can be deemed to be in attendance via live tele or video conferencing as appropriate.  Proceedings will not have any effect for any part or whole of a meeting that was not quorate.

Modus operandi

The Science Committee will meet three or four times a year in a regular programme.

Commensurate with its purpose, Science Committee meeting agendas will be forward-looking and strategic.  The Committee will advise on future meeting agendas, which will be agreed by the NERC Director Research and Skills with the Chair of the Committee.

Members will commit time to attend regular meetings, read meeting papers, consider issues outside regular meetings, and to contribute to working groups. The total time commitment for Science Committee members is expected to be up to 20 days each year.

Reporting and engagement

The Science Committee is formally a subcommittee of NERC Council, and its terms of reference will be approved by Council. To facilitate reporting and engagement with Council:

  • the Science Committee Chair will attend Council meetings as an observer
  • Science Committee members may be invited to attend the annual Council retreat

The NERC Executive will facilitate business planning and engagement between the Science Committee, Council and the Executive, to be led by NERC’s Director of Research and Skills. The Committee will also engage with other NERC Directors responsible for relevant business areas, policies, budgets and investments.

On matters of policy advice to NERC, the Science Committee may also engage with working groups convened from the wider NERC Advisory Network.

Committee secretariat

The Science Committee will be supported by a secretariat provided by NERC.

Review of terms of reference

This document will be reviewed regularly, taking account of NERC governance, policy and strategy.

Last updated: 9 February 2024

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