Memorandum submitted by the Royal Society
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
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
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
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
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
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 http://www.rsc.org/pdf/general/m&auk.pdf) 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
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
Perhaps this is one reason that so many mergers fail to produce
the expected resultsie 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
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 industrysuch as LINK, TCS, and EPSRC
(SERC) CASE awardswere 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
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
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
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 momentumat
least in London and with national media. Local or regional activities
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.
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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