Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Maths and the Markets (II)

Following my last post I drafted a letter on behalf of the leading researchers in financial maths in the UK. After some edits, Sir David Wallace, Chair of the Council of Mathematical Sciences, sent this on our behalf to Lord Turner.

The FSA have responded positively to this, as discussed by Clive Cookson in the FT today.

Its a good result for both the FSA, who need the support of mathematicians that is out of their price range to employ and tghe research community will get some sort of support.

There is an angle that is not so positive. The government is keen that academics do more public engagement, and I think this is a good thing. If financial mathematicians do something that is not pointless, they should be able to inform the FSA on good regulatory practice. My concern is that the institutions between the government and academics are not efficient at enabling academics to engage. Typical examples are the RAE/ REF process, which focus academics on learning more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing. Similarly the Research Councils are keen to facilitate public engagement, but at the end of the day most grant applications are assessed by a panel who are only (in maths at least) in world clas smathematics research - and pure mathematicians don't like being associated with anything as messy as the real world.

These are general comments, there is a specific example. The Technology Strategy Board recently conducted a call to establish a Knowledge Transfer Network in Financial Services. Some of the signatories to Lord Turner's letter submitted a proposal, which was unsuccessful. The question is, did the successful group make any submission to the FSA regarding the Turner Review? My point is that sometime government funding of research activity results in activites that "tick the boxes" but that is about all. These comments are informed by a private conversations with people from a number of consotiums who submitted proposals to the TSB.

Is there a better way? When I explore issues like the shortcomings of the RAE and research councils, members of the government counter that "that is what the (elite) universities want". It was Universities UK that lobbied government to keep the RAE as was/is. The high and mighty like the research councils panels, because it enables them to control science funding. However, people tell me that the US system, managed by the National Science Foundation, is more researcher focussed and less buraucracy focussed.