Open main menu

In British research policy, the Haldane principle is the idea that decisions about what to spend research funds on should be made by researchers rather than politicians. It is named after Richard Burdon Haldane, who in 1904 and from 1909 to 1918 chaired committees and commissions which recommended this policy.


The 1904 committee recommended the creation of the University Grants Committee which has evolved via the Universities Funding Council into the current higher education funding councils: Research Councils UK, Higher Education Funding Council for England, Scottish Funding Council and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

In 1918 Haldane's committee produced the "Haldane Report". The report suggested that research required by government departments could be separated into that required by specific departments and that which was more general. It recommended that departments should oversee the specific research but the general research should be under the control of autonomous Research Councils, which would be free from political and administrative pressures that might discourage research in certain areas. The principle of the autonomy of the research councils is now referred to as the Haldane Principle. The first research council to be created as a result of the Haldane Report was the Medical Research Council.

The principle has remained enshrined in British Government policy, but has been criticised and altered over the years. In 1939 J.D. Bernal argued that social good was more important than researchers' freedom in deciding the direction of research. Solly Zuckerman criticised it in 1971 for its artificial separation of basic and applied science, and the consequent elevation of the status of the former.

A major revision to the application of the Haldane Principle in British research funding came in the early 1970s with the Rothschild Report of 1971, and its implementation which transferred about 25% of the then Research Council funds, and the decisions on the research to be funded with them, back to government departments, a move later undone by Margaret Thatcher's government.

There is currently a debate about the extent to which the principle is still applied in practice.[1]

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which merged the research councils and the research part of the Higher Education Funding Council for England into UK Research and Innovation, enacted the Haldane principle as section 103(3): The “Haldane principle” is the principle that decisions on individual research proposals are best taken following an evaluation of the quality and likely impact of the proposals (such as a peer review process).[2]



Further readingEdit

  • Gummett, P. (1980) Scientists in Whitehall. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

External linksEdit