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


Memorandum submitted by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales


  1.  The Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCW) is responsible for the administration of funds made available by the National Assembly for Wales in support of the provision of education and the undertaking of research by higher education institutions in Wales. Its interest in the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry stems from the Government's commitment to a dual support system for research carried out by the higher education sector. The overall purpose of the research funding provided by the Council is to enable the maintenance and development of a flexible and dynamic high quality research base in Wales, thus complementing the funding made available by the Research Councils for individual projects.


  2.  The Government's strategy in the White Paper was to improve the nation's competitiveness and quality of life by maintaining the excellence of the United Kingdom's research capability. High profile was given to the role of science and technology in the economy. The importance of technology transfer (ie a greater accessibility of research results from the science base to industry) was stressed, as was the need for the science base and for those providing public funds in support—the Research Councils and the Funding Councils—to take into account the needs of industry in forming priorities.


  3.  Although the White Paper did not call for radical changes in the structure and operation of the Funding Councils, its published aims have become manifest in the objectives of HEFCW and have been reflected in the way that institutions in Wales have responded.

  4.  HEFCW's monitoring of institutions shows a marked change in attitudes. There is much more emphasis on actions in support of wealth creation, exemplified for instance by increased income from contract work. HEFCW has sought to encourage these activities through a number of funding initiatives and is now moving towards a permanent funding stream in support of contract work and other programmes, including those allied or akin to research conducted with industry and commerce (so-called "third leg" funding). Likewise, the Council works in partnership with the Welsh Development Agency on initiatives designed to support the aims of the White Paper.

  5.  In this context, the Committee should note that the Funding Councils have built the White Paper agenda into successive Research Assessment Exercises. Thus, HEFCW's conclusion is that the White Paper's objectives and themes have led to a culture change, and that they remain appropriate to the development of a strategy for science, engineering and technology, from both the national and territorial standpoints.

  6.  In terms of the Government's plans for achieving its objectives, HEFCW endorses the agenda set out in para 4. Bullet points 3 (streamlining knowledge transfer schemes and focusing them on clearer goals) and 4 (fostering regional networks) are matters of particular relevance to the National Assembly for Wales, and HEFCW's role in maintaining a research base that will support the Welsh economy. The Assembly has made available a budget of £15 million over 2000/01 and 2001/02 for the Knowledge Exploitation Fund, intended to give added impetus to collaboration between business and higher education.

  7.  HEFCW is also currently conducting a review of its policy and mechanism of funding research. This will feed into the Assembly's review of higher education taking place in the Autumn of 2000, in which exploitation of the research base is likely to feature as a major priority. In this context, the operation of the next round of Foresight with a stronger regional dimension will be of significance, as it seeks to identify priorities of specific relevance to Wales.

  8.  A point made strongly by sector institutions in responding to HEFCW's consultation on research policy (February 2000) was that support for a research base that contributes to quality of life in its broadest sense is often overlooked in concentrating on economic competitiveness. It might be appropriate to make specific mention of quality of life issues in the plans put forward to achieve the Government's aims.

12 June 2000

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