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


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Professor D H Saxon, University of Glasgow

  1.  These are comments on the White Paper (Excellence and Opportunity, Cmnd 4814) and the Science Budget, 2001-02 to 2003-04. I shall concentrate on the effect on my own areas of interest, in the following capacities: Member of Council, PPARC (1997-); Member of Council, CCLRC (2000-), Head of Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow (1996-).

  2.  There is much that is very good in the Science Budget. I welcome the timely initiative in e-science. But CCLRC still faces problems if it is to be able to continue to deliver the excellence in facilities and expertise that it has in the past.

  3.  For PPARC the uplift in the baseline is earmarked. For astronomy this is understandable as the approach to ESO will provide some change of direction, and it is right that some pruning should occur. But in both astronomy and particle physics inflation will damage very good science outside the earmarked area. The flavour of under-funding and is by no means eliminated. One particular disappointment was in hopes for accelerator R&D. PPARC attaches some importance to this and hoped to see it addressed in the CCLRC line, but this has not yet happened.

  4.  CCLRC is presently in a difficult position. The White Paper (chap 2, para 18) states that previously "CCLRC was not given a clear mission or proper funding arrangements; we should now do so." As a Council member I heartily agree. We are waiting expectantly for the publication of the quinquennial review of CCLRC held earlier this year, and the Government's response. Meanwhile we are losing time because of the uncertainty created.

  5.  The seed money for new projects offered in the Science Budget to CCLRC is at too low a level. Whilst the increase is welcome, the total falls well below the 5 per cent of turnover necessary to prepare for future investment. The objectives for CCLRC listed in the White Paper include "develop the core competencies and other capabilities that can contribute to the nation's science and technology base." We need to see a little more resourcing here to deliver on this.

  6.  The delay in setting up the management arrangements for Diamond is becoming damaging. The Science Budget refers to "secondment of key UK design expertise from CCLRC at Daresbury to the Diamond project team." Staff are eagerly asking CCLRC management what the arrangements are. At present it is difficult to explain to them why they should not take offers from abroad. Four experts have left to date.

  7.  I have referred to the disappointment over accelerator R&D under PPARC. CCLRC is a natural location for this as this technology increasingly underpins a range of applications from Higgs Boson hunting via materials science and biology to hadron therapy for cancer. Hopefully, the arrangements to be put in place following the quinquennial review will allow this to be addressed.

  8.  At the university level, SRIF is very complimentary to JIF. JIF involved massive form-filling and had a success rate barely over 10 per cent, (with consequent massive waste of effort,) but has funded some excellent initiatives. SRIF devolves the competition to within each university and will allow each university to take a strategic look at its own priorities.

  9.  The main worry for the future of university research must now be the uncompetitive level of salaries. We currently offer a 27 year old, with a Ph D, £18731 per annum. Yet our 21 year old Hons B Sc graduates frequently get offers over £20K. Over the last few years I have watched our RAE grade 5* computer science department get raided for staff by industry along with our grade 5 Electrical and Electronic Engineering department. In the last year the same process has started in particle physics. It is the future leadership that is going. We are building up long-term problems unless this is addressed.

  10.  The core funding of universities is simply too weak. University lecturers are expected not only to teach larger numbers of students than previously, but during the vacations to start up and to deliver on initiatives in research to the level of £120K per head per year (in my department). Even with overhead-bearing income at this level, and growing, it is an annual battle to maintain solvency, in spite of vigorous restructuring in the last two years.

  11.  Finally, I note that the report "International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy" drew attention to the recent drastic decline in the number of physicists entering post-graduate teacher training courses. The position is masked by the number of biologists entering science teaching. Physics as a discipline underpins much of engineering and technology. The trend to combined science in schools is tending to marginalize the subject, and this is where the greatest long-term danger lies.

19 December 2000

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