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


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Bolton Institute

  As outlined in my response to the consequence of the 1993 White Paper—Realising Our Potential, any comments are made within the context of a small-to-medium-sized higher education institution that undertakes applied scientific and engineering research concentrating upon regional company interactions. As stated in our earlier memorandum, the previous White Paper benefited our work and plans because of the recognition of the SME sector and its need for support by OST funding sources, in particular. In addition, the Foresight technology process has provided a catalyst to this and has significantly influenced our industrial S&T direction and funding.


  The present White Paper is a logical extension of its predecessor and rightly focuses on the need to promote scientific excellence. To attempt to attract more young people into science ("Science Year 2001-02") is to be applauded as is the decision to raise postgraduate support for new science and engineering graduates who otherwise may be dissuaded from proceeding to postgraduate research training.

  However, two major decision-assisting factors for young people are missed by the paper. These are:-

    —  the improved remuneration for science, maths and technology teachers in schools, to attract the most highly talented graduates into the profession, and

    —  the perceived value placed on science and engineering by young people.

  UK society, in spite of its history of producing world class scientists and engineers, does not value them as highly as other professionals such as doctors, accountants and lawyers. In Germany and France, for example, they are more highly valued. This view by the young in particular, is partly a consequence of their relatively poor earning potential whether real or perceived. Talented teachers and initiatives like "Science Year 2001-02" will excite young people but their decisions to pursue a scientific or engineering career is largely based on expected earning potential. It is well known from remuneration surveys (eg The Royal Society of Chemistry) that practising scientists and engineers are paid less than those pursuing non-practising careers and most will be paid less than doctors, lawyers accountants and members of financial houses. What is the White Paper doing to address the value that UK Society places on its scientists?—It is silent!

  The decline in graduates in these disciplines, highlighted in the White Paper, will only be reversed if status and value (and hence remuneration) by society are enhanced. It will probably be seen in the immediate future that student debt will exacerbate this "drift away from science"—where are the "golden hellos" being offered to scientists and engineers—not from industry or public employers but from the commercial and especially financial sectors where their talents are more fully recognised?.


  We note that the White Paper identifies that the "knowledge-intensive" sectors account for 38 per cent of the value of the London Stock Exchange for 1998. It proposes that these high technology sectors should be the focus of our activities. Little or no mention is made of the other (and larger) 62 per cent which probably contains the majority of the so-called traditional wealth-creating areas many of which (eg chemicals, aerospace, etc,) are still knowledge-intensive. They also employ the majority of our present scientists and engineers. Does the White Paper propose that we should neglect these areas? It is noteworthy that the USA and EU member states are all focusing upon this same 38 per cent (as indeed are some of the so-called developing nations)—competition will be immense and is the market large enough? Surely, elements of the remaining 62 per cent should now be seen as niche opportunities for the UK (since our competitors no longer appear to be interested in them)? It is interesting to note the importance given by the White Paper to nanotechnology; I would suggest that chemists were the first nanotechnologists and that they still remain in the van of modern developments in this "new" discipline. The White Paper and the London Stock Exchange do not realise or wish to acknowledge this, however.

  Innovation cannot happen without a renewable human resource having excellent educational backgrounds in science and engineering. It is interesting that while the White Paper announces £1 billion in partnership with the Welcome Trust for infrastructure, only £140 million is being announced for the HE Innovation Fund. The former will fund the traditional university sector (as did the previous £1 billion) which probably interacts to a limited extent with regional communities and local SMEs. It is hoped, although unlikely, that most of the £140 million may be focussed upon the newer universities which have the better record of serving their regional and local communities. Taken as a nationwide figure, I would suggest that this will add only marginal value to present HEROBC initiatives. Furthermore, if it is to be distributed within the current "bid philosophy" then the administrative costs will once again be borne by the HE community; its attractiveness will be influenced by this factor.

  In conclusion, while the White Paper offers some good news, especially with regard to some improved regional and small business funding, it will not change the drift away from science of young people in spite of improved "A" level performance in schools across all subjects. It is interesting to note that the engineering professions in attempts to raise the status of engineers have merely driven up the minimum "A" level point requirements for students entering accredited engineering courses. This has had the following effects:-

    (i)  it has helped reduce the numbers of total BEng students entering accredited courses;

    (ii)  it has produced closures of engineering departments;

    (iii)  it has virtually closed down part-time higher educational routes on accredited courses.

  Had the professions attempted to raise the stature and remuneration of their members, then different and most likely reverse trends might have been seen. The Government is in a position to significantly influence the culture of UK society towards its scientists and engineers and it is unfortunate that the White Paper does not address this issue at all.

10 January 2001

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