Over the last three decades research in academia and industry has become increasingly reliant on software. A recent survey of RCUK-funded research being undertaken in 15 Russell Group universities found that 92% of researchers used research software, 67% reported that it was fundamental to their research, and 56% said they developed their own software (See Research Software Engineers: State of the Nation Report 2017). Software can therefore now be seen as perhaps the most important research tool across all disciplines, and the design and development of research software is critical to the success of the UK research base.
Over the last decade EPSRC has spearheaded a programme to support the development of sustainable, high quality software through establishment of the Software Sustainability Institute in Edinburgh, the Software for the Future funding Programme, and the establishment of the Research Software Engineering Fellowship Programme. In response, most of the leading research-intensive Universities (although not yet Oxford) have established research software engineering groups to support the development of academic software within their institutions. The largest such group is the one at UCL which has expanded to ten permanent staff, including two who were recruited from Oxford.
Original RSE survey project
We explored the need for research software engineering (RSE) support in both the academic research and the knowledge transfer spaces within Oxford. Our aims were to:
- Identify researchers within the University with a need for RSE support.
- Assess the extent to which the lack of RSE support is a barrier to both research progress and to knowledge transfer.
- To understand the skills required in a RSE team in both the research and knowledge transfer spaces, and to use this understanding to model the potential demand for RSE services in the future.
- To identify and catalogue the existing RSE skills already available within the University.
- To identify, learn lessons from, and support small pilot projects to act as case studies and as a direct evidence base in developing future business and funding models.
- To explore possible business and funding models (based on current practice in other universities) with the goal of filling the software engineering support gap in Oxford.
- To develop a business case to support the development of an RSE group within Oxford.
This initial project was successful and has led to the creation of this Research Software Engineering group.