Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Clerk of the Committee from Professor Geoff Simon, Chair, British Society of Animal Science Technical and Ethical Committee

  1.  The annual Forward Look report is welcome.

  2.  While Technology Foresight may help Parliamentarians understand the direction of scientific research, we are not confident that it has done much to facilitate industrial-academic interaction, or been of particular benefit to the life science community.

  3.  The Council for Science and Technology (within the Office of Science and Technology) has not been as visibly active as its precursor ACOST. However, the role remains an important one.

  4.  The academia-industry interface still needs to be developed. That the DTI lost much of its R&D budget since the last White Paper has not helped. That other Civil Departments (especially MAFF) have had their R&D budgets decline, again has not helped. That the cuts in military/defence R&D have not been transferred to either civil science (be it Departmental R&D or the Science Base) has been a lost opportunity.

  5.  Schemes such as the Teaching Company Directorate have been successful and welcome.

  6.  The new Research Council mission statements with their explicit commitment to wealth creation and the quality of life may be threatening blue skies research. The big breakthroughs do not necessarily have an immediate commercial application. The merger of the AFRC with the SERC has not preserved whole-organism agricultural research. We now need such research in order to realise the whole-organism applications of the past decade's molecular discoveries.

  7.  The creation of a co-ordinating post of DG of the Research Councils has been beneficial.

  8.  The theme of wealth creation and quality of life is most applicable to technology and engineering (including bio-engineering), but it should not be allowed to constrain pure research which is where most of the big breakthroughs originate.

  9.  The future:

    (a)  the UK has to position itself to reap the most from the post-genome challenges;

    (b)  to do this we need to ensure that science attracts and retains the very best. Short term contracts and career structures need to be addressed urgently. Administrative bureaucracy is still stifling;

    (c)  the decline in science funding, having been halted, must return to its mid-1980 real term levels.

5 June 2000

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