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


Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

  We welcome the Government's recognition that scientific excellence is only part of the wealth creation and quality of life enhancement processes. We welcome its emphasis on helping manufacturing and service companies to innovate and adopt new technologies. We support the view that to be a successful nation we must have the facility to quickly transform scientific discovery into useful products and services. Successful exploitation will create the wealth that is required to improve our society and sustain our scientific endeavour.

  We are concerned, however, that the Government does not fully appreciate or understand the vitally important role of engineering in the innovation process and the successful exploitation of scientific knowledge. The White Paper strongly indicates that it is excellent science that automatically leads to innovation and market success. Whilst it is the work carried out by scientists that produces new knowledge and understanding of what exists, it is the combination of this with engineering knowledge through the process of "engineering" that transforms such knowledge into commercially successful, useful products and services.

  It is this successful exploitation of scientific knowledge (ie innovation) that has long been a major weakness within the UK's economy. As a nation, we have long been very good at invention, but much less effective at innovation. We broadly support the view that the Government, and business, should do far more to support the Science Base and its basic research. However, when we contrast the UK's performance with that of other technologically advanced countries we believe that far too little is being done to encourage a greater take up of engineering within schools and universities and corresponding investment in engineering research and facilities within universities and industry. It is only by such encouragement that we will get the much needed flow of high quality engineers and innovative products and services into all areas of the UK economy, and begin to close the competitiveness gap that is growing between the UK and other nations.

  Much as we welcome efforts to improve the links between universities and industry, we do not accept that universities alone can be expected to turn scientific knowledge into national wealth. That is a role for all organisations in the knowledge economy, and in particular those most familiar with the needs of global markets, and they will all need more professional engineers to make it happen.

  For this to occur there needs to be a cultural change across society. It will no longer be appropriate to think of science as embracing engineering and technology. Instead we must more proactively encourage innovation and the exploitation of knowledge through professional engineering. We therefore suggest as a first step that government appoint a Chief Science and Engineering Advisor to guide government policy and strategy on the future focus for scientific research and its exploitation to improve national wealth.

10 January 2001

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