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


Memorandum submitted by the Royal Society of Chemistry

  1.  Realising Our Potential has had a significant positive impact in terms of the new policies and initiatives started by the Office of Science and Technology (OST) and the Research Councils. The overall vision was and is correct.

  2.  However, behind the facade there is a long way to go in government, academia and industry before good intentions are translated into effective actions.

  3.  In government, despite the action taken to safeguard the Science Base Budget, overall cuts in R & D expenditure suggest scant attention is being paid to future requirements: for example, in some government departments, notably MAFF.

  4.  In universities, although changes in culture and the content of courses are occurring, they are proceeding too slowly to keep pace with business requirements.

  5.  In industry, there are too many companies who have still not heard of Foresight, and many more who have taken no part in the processes and opportunities put in place by government.

  6.  Much more work is required before any major success for the strategy from the 1993 Realising Our Potential White Paper can be claimed.

  7.  The role of learned and professional societies as intermediaries in the implementation of Realising Our Potential needs to be acknowledged and supported by government.

  8.  The Society remains strongly committed to co-operation with government to achieve the successes that Realising Our Potential was designed to bring about.


  The Royal Society of Chemistry warmly welcomed the White Paper Realising Our Potential when it was published in 1993.

  Since then the Society has been closely involved in many aspects of the activities that followed the White Paper. For example, the Society has:

      —  Actively served on various Foresight Panels and working groups.

      —  Organised a large number of workshops to explain the process of Foresight and taken creative new initiatives (eg technology car boot sales) to make it a success.

      —  Worked closely with OST, DTI and the Research Councils.

      —  Participated in various educational and training initiatives.

      —  Been a very active participant in Science Week.

      —  Been active in providing advice to Parliament and government.

      —  Worked with various regional and business link groups.

      —  Carried out surveys of chemical industry reactions and held workshops for company directors.

      —  Made changes within the Society and increased staff to work on Foresight and related issues.

  As a consequence the comments the Society makes are made on the firm basis of first-hand experience and involvement in all areas of Realising Our Potential.

1.  The annual publication of Forward Look to provide a clear and up-to-date statement of the Government's strategy for science, engineering and technology (replacing the more limited annual review).

  The Forward Look as shown by the Select Committee's recent inquiry answers many of the questions regarding the impact of Realising our Potential.

  Government does no appear to have a coherent strategy for science and technology. While exhorting industry to spend more on R&D the Forward Look reveals a declining spend in civil R&D by government departments (eg MAFF).

2.  The creation of Technology Foresight (now Foresight), designed to "achieve a key culture change: better communication, interaction and mutual understanding between the scientific community, industry and government departments".

  Technology Foresight as a process has achieved some of its objectives in promoting culture change and improving communications between academia, government and industry.

  Culture change in chemistry has at best been only partial in academia and is being brought about by other drivers than Technology Foresight: for example, by the success of start-up companies, changes in funding available from industry as industry changes and by the increasing pace of research with shifts in emphasis.

  According to the Society's own survey of UK chemistry departments, academics believe that Foresight influences the Research Councils and hence tailor their research proposals accordingly. However, they are more influenced by the RAE which encourages academic excellence at the expense of applied research. The Society understands that the next RAE will give due weight to collaborative research with industry. Care needs to be taken to find the right balance since the traditional role of universities of providing freedom of research and academic excellence must be maintained.

  If the culture in chemistry departments is to change more significantly it will require structured programmes to change attitudes and procedures. In industrial companies successful cultural change has only been achieved by devoting substantial time and money to the process. Nor can universities be expected to change significantly without adequate resources to manage the process, as well as to encourage the outcomes.

  Apart from the larger companies that were already practising Foresight, there is little evidence that industry in general has taken up Foresight or that it has influenced industry spending on R&D. In fact during the period that Foresight has been operating, UK industry R&D spending has declined substantially. A recent Society study on Mergers Acquisitions and Restructuring in the UK Chemicals Industry (which can be found at clearly shows that the liberal climate for business has a downside that is in danger of undermining the UK's S&T infrastructure and reducing our capacity to innovate and compete globally. This is common to many other sectors and has already had damaging consequences for electronics, engineering and car manufacturing.

  The change of name from Technology Foresight to Foresight corresponded with the transfer of OST to DTI (which itself may symbolically reflect a peculiarly UK attitude to and discomfort with science and technology). It also signalled a change in strategy from technology to wider business issues, which, while it might make it easier for non-technical people to participate, has also lost its technology focus. At the same time the Government's Competitiveness White Paper stressed the importance of S&T and the knowledge based economy to the UK's future prosperity. (See "Our Competitive Future: Building the Knowledge Driver Economy" 1998).

  It is interesting to note that in a discussion on Foresight with CEOs in the chemicals and materials sector, they did not support this expansion of Foresight to address the wider issues, such as supply chain management and future markets. They considered these to be things that they were capable of handling themselves. They would not share their knowledge (competitive edge) with others and would not value the views of people not involved with their customers and not operating in their sector. Their strong recommendation was that Foresight should concentrate on technology and inform companies on how technology could develop and influence their business. They clearly felt that we should put the technology focus back into Foresight. This attitude might be different in other less technology intensive sectors.

  An attempt to get companies to carry out technology audits in the same way as they carry out financial audits has not encouraged industry and the City properly to value their technical expertise (—aug99.htm). Perhaps this is one reason that so many mergers fail to produce the expected results—ie valuable technology experience disappears as key staff are made redundant. However, reported studies of mergers by City institutions do not consider technology issues. Promises by the DTI to incorporate plans for technology audits as part of intangible asset initiatives do not appear to have been taken forward.

  Whilst industry might not have responded well to Foresight, the Society has been very active in promoting Foresight principles and practice to its 46,000 members in industry and academia. We have developed our own Forward Look for Chemistry, analysed industry trends (see above) and implemented a self-help action plan to improve "our" performance. New Society groups have been established to address new areas on the frontiers with other scientific and engineering disciplines. We have pioneered new types of technology transfer events that have been very successful in bringing together companies (especially SMEs) and academic researchers with real results. Through our websites and the Internet we have set up new networks to link companies and academic groups and provide fast access to expertise and customers world-wide.

  With their existing networks and their unique position between industry and academia, Learned Societies and Professional Bodies can do much to effect culture change and to achieve the Government's aims for technology transfer ie the "interchange of ideas, skills, know-how and knowledge between the science and engineering base and industry". Their role as intermediaries needs to be acknowledged and supported by government. Current schemes such as Faraday Partnerships (DTI) and Networks (EPSRC) centre on universities, trade associations and research organisations. Learned Societies are not eligible to act as Faraday centres or Network hubs even though they might represent the most appropriate organisations to deliver. We would recommend that current schemes are changed to allow Learned Societies and other relevant bodies to be even more active.

3.  The abolition of the Advisory Council on Science and Technology and its replacement with the Council for Science and Technology "to help ensure that the Government benefits from outside independent and expert advice when deciding on its own research spending priorities".

  The Royal Society of Chemistry has seen little evidence that the Council for Science and Technology has had any significant impact. A recent report on Technology Matters seems to add little new to discussions over the last decade. However, the report "Science Teachers" is well informed and constructive and makes a number of suggestions we hope will be implemented swiftly.

4.  A shifting of emphasis for technology transfer initiatives to place more importance on "the interchange of ideas, skills, know-how and knowledge between the science and engineering base and industry".

  Current schemes to facilitate technology transfer between academe and industry—such as LINK, TCS, and EPSRC (SERC) CASE awards—were already in operation at the time that the 1993 White Paper was published. LINK and TCS have been expanded but many find that the delays in getting plans approved under both schemes is unacceptable. In practice TCS has a low take up by academic chemists probably because the programme was developed in the context of engineering where specific technical problems are more likely to be identifiable rather than proposals for the funding of more open-ended projects which characterises academic chemistry.

  It is encouraging that more money has been made available for TCS. We hope that more chemists will find ways of using the scheme.

5.  Programmes to improve access for small and medium-sized enterprises to innovation support programmes.

  Good efforts have been made to provide innovation support programmes for SMEs. Indeed one problem has been that there are perhaps too may schemes, although this has been recognised and attempts at simplification are being made. Generally speaking schemes still need to be more user friendly and more flexible for smaller companies. Decisions on applications for grants need to be swift and confidentiality must be maintained.

  With the continuing changes in company structure, the need for flexible schemes will become more of an issue.

6.  The reorganisation of the Research Councils with modified management structures and new mission statements which made more explicit their commitments to wealth creation and the quality of life.

7.  The creation of the post of the Director General of the Research Councils and the absorption of the functions of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils into the Office of Science and Technology.

The Society views the reorganisation of the Research Councils and the evaluation of management structures to have been successful. The Society believes that the Council Chairmen are working together to ensure that science at the interface of disciplines is well supported.

  The Society notes that some academics say that previous procedures were better than those currently employed but nevertheless believes that overall Research Councils are working very hard to meet the interests of their several very demanding communities.

  The role of the Director General in encouraging change in the Research Councils has been positive overall and continues to provide a strong mechanism for biasing research funds in particular areas. However, such is the commitment of all Research Councils to responsive mode funding that the scope for manoeuvre is small.

8.  The launch of a new campaign to spread understanding of science among school children and the public.

  Many positive developments have been made with regard to the new campaigns to spread understanding of science among school children and the public. However, Science Week, which was initially successful, now seems to have lost momentum—at least in London and with national media. Local or regional activities remain successful.

  Much activity has been encouraged by the Research Councils, who have started initiatives often in competition with those run by Learned Societies and Charities.

  Much has been learned about how to engage in appropriate dialogue between societies and the public but agreed best practice is difficult to find.

  There is now an urgent need for collective action amongst the many groups involved. Government initiatives have done little to help focus objectives or activities.

  Although the learning curve has been slow, there are now encouraging signs that many of the various groups engaged on issues relating to science and the public are seeking ways of working together.


  A copy of the submission by the Royal Society of Chemistry to the Science and Innovation Strategy is attached[13].

  The Society is pleased that the Government wishes to encourage an entrepreneurial culture in universities and that universities should be involved in solving business problems. On the other hand the Society believes the main role of universities to be training and education and that too many key staff may be diverted from their teaching responsibilities. A more explicit policy is required to avoid the total overload of university staff.

  We need to consider carefully the relationship between the UK's national R&D initiatives and those being promoted in Europe as, for example, in the paper Towards a European Research Area which was endorsed recently by EU Ministers at the Lisbon Summit. We already have clear evidence of the effect of foreign ownership on R&D levels in the UK in the chemical industry. We must be clear how we are going to maintain high R&D levels of activity in the UK.

  As a country, we must make sure we invest appropriately. For example, progress in biology and information technology depends on the physical sciences and engineering. Today it is nanotechnology that offers the prospects for greater advances in these latter areas. Are we supporting sufficient new initiatives in nanotechnology?

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