Memorandum submitted by Universities UK
1. Universities UK (our name changed from
CVCP on 1 December 2000) is pleased to supply, as requested, a
supplement to the memorandum we submitted in Summer 2000, reflecting
the response of universities to Excellence and Opportunity: the
Science and Innovation White Paper, and also related funding allocations.
2. The White Paper was warmly welcomed and
enthusiastically supported by universities, building as it did
on the earlier Competitiveness White Paper, which set a bold strategy
for exploiting the UK knowledge base, particularly in our universities.
The White Paper rightly identifies the central role of science
and innovation in economic progress and improving quality of life.
Equally rightly, it acknowledges the world-class quality of UK
research, which has been sustained despite years of under-funding.
That is a process that could not continueit is good to
see that progress has been made towards addressing the challenge.
We also welcome the formal acknowledgement in the White Paper
of the importance of the "dual support" system for funding
university research, and also of the Government's key responsibility
for funding basic research.
3. Universities have also welcomed the financial
settlement for science and research, which accompanied the White
Paper. The focus on new building, refurbishment and equipment
will do much to redress a backlog that had grown up over many
years and to which we had drawn special attention to this issue
in our submissions to the Government. Indeed, in a number of respects
the White Paper shows that the Government has listened carefully
to the views expressed by universities. For example, the Government
responded to submissions from universities about the mechanism
for the allocation of the new funds, and has decided to adopt
a formula-based allocation, based on quality and volume, rather
than the costly and burdensome bidding process employed for the
previous system, the Joint Infrastructure Fund. It was recently
announced that the requirement for universities to provide 25
per cent of SRIF awards from their own or third party resources
would be waived in the case of collaborative proposals; we regard
this as a welcome incentive for inter-institutional co-operation.
The early stages of the Transparency Review already indicate that
public funding for research is allocated for the purpose for which
it was given, and indeed that it is under-written from other sources.
The task now is to ensure that government support for research
is at least sustained at this level.
4. Generally, the White Paper is well-focused
and the resources that accompany it will give a much needed boost
to universities to help them play their part in realising the
objectives identified. It should also feed through beneficially
to the economy in due course. We would argue that in some cases
it does not go far enough to tackle the problems it identifies.
5. The White Paper correctly identifies
the current excellence of UK science education. It acknowledges
a decline in graduate numbers in some science subjects, but it
borders on complacency about the recent decline in demand from
UK students for places in these subjects. For many years talented
overseas students have been attracted to UK science and technology
courses but this supply is threatened by increased availability
of good quality undergraduate and postgraduate courses in their
countries of origin as well as the entry of other suppliers of
education into the market. The presence of overseas students has
to some extent been masking the decline of the UK student intake
to science and engineering in recent years.
6. The moves to attract science graduates
to teaching are welcome, although in the current climate, their
success could exacerbate the problem of graduate supply to business.
The real answer must be to increase significantly the undergraduate
intake to science and technology. It is possible that pupils'
disenchantment with science begins as a result of being taught
at early stages by non-specialist teachers. There is much to be
done to make the curriculum relevant and attractive at the secondary
level. The "Young Ambassador" and "Young Foresight"
programmes are welcome, but they may need increased resource to
7. The White Paper also identifies a supply
problem at the postgraduate level, where shortages of graduates
and market forces tempt the best graduates into industry rather
than research. This trend poses a long-term threat to the quality
of R&D in both industry and universities. The proposal to
increase stipends for research assistants is welcome: the question
will be whether it goes far enough fast enough and whether it
takes sufficient note of market trends in particular subject areas.
8. New funds to attract leading researchers
to the UK are also welcome, but to be effective they will need
to be accompanied by resources for postgraduate and post-doctoral
support, as well as the continuing problem of overall salary levels
in HE. Career prospects for post-doctoral researchers are a significant
issue. Only a small minority can aspire to securing a permanent
position in universities and so an early introduction to the world
of industry and business is in their long-term interest. The Research
Careers Initiative remains the main vehicle for progress at a
national level and deserves support. It is only through a genuine
partnership between industry, universities and government that
these challenges can be met.
9. Companies increasingly seek to recruit
graduates and postgraduates who are able and prepared to be involved
in a broad range of company business, but they look to outsource
their R&D to universities, for financial reasons and because
of the speed of technological change. Science and engineering
graduates will thus need to be both well versed in their specialisation
but also entrepreneurial and flexible. Researchers will also need
to be able to support fundamental research but also to offer high
quality flexible research programmes to meet industrial needs.
They will work in university-based research centres alongside
industrially-sponsored groups, perhaps sharing facilities jointly
funded by research councils and industry. The development of such
a modelin which all parties agree on transparent resource
allocationcould provide a tremendous boost to the UK economy;
the alternative is that UK industry will turn to overseas centres
for its R&D.
10. We welcome the support announced in
the White Paper for knowledge transfer and research commercialisation.
Indeed the list of support schemes grows increasingly long and
complex, and we hope that the new HE Innovation Fund, announced
in the White Paper, will in time provide the opportunity to make
knowledge transfer funding higher profile, more streamlined and
less bureaucratic. The White Paper contains many separate and
distinct initiatives, which need to be developed strategically
into a common view and plan of action between government, business
and universities. We are concerned lest a situation persist in
which universities, suffering from initiative fatigue, focus on
funding that suits them and their internal plans, and companies
find it too difficult and wearisome to navigate their way through
potential opportunities. A truly joined-up approach is something
we are still seeking.
11. Certainly we applaud the intention behind
HEIF that it grow and become a permanent funding stream for knowledge
transfer. Universities enthusiastically embrace the notion of
"reach-out" or knowledge transfer to stimulate local
and national economy, as a "third mission" alongside
teaching and research. We trust that HEIF will evolve into a formula-driven
rather than a bidding-driven scheme, based on flexible, generic
objectives and measurable contributions to the economy. Universities
will contribute more effectively to this goal if allowed the freedom
to develop their own approaches rather than responding to a narrow
and prescriptive set of criteria.
12. We commend the recognition in the White
Paper and related spending decisions that universities are central
to the growth and success of the knowledge-based economy. We believe
that the survey of university-industry interaction, announced
in the White Paper, will provide evidence to debunk the myth that
UK universities are good at research but poor at exploiting it
for the public good. Nevertheless we can all benefit from sharing
good practice. That is why Universities UK is shortly to publish
a guide to the management of university consultancy. And we will
also work with government, as invited in the White Paper, to disseminate
good practice in the effective management of intellectual property.
13. Many universities enjoy excellent relations
with large businesses where their interests coincide, often to
do with high level R&D and/or consultancy, although it can
also be on the basis of work placements and the supply of skilled
graduates for employment. These relationships have proved in many
cases to be fruitful, but they need to be put on a more open,
transparent, full-cost basis. Less common, but often achieving
a higher profile, are relationships across a spectrum of large
to medium sized firms in a particular sector (eg the motor industry
or chemical engineering).
14. A more difficult relationship, but one
which all are agreed is a key to our future economic success is
the relationship between a university and one, or a cluster of,
SMEs, especially in high-tech areas, which the White Paper identifies
as central to future prosperity. The relationship is not an easy
one for either side and we need help to make it work. The White
Paper offers a number of potential solutions, and additional funding
for interaction will certainly help universities build capacity
for co-operation with business. However, we are less sure about
stimuli on the demand side; we need to raise the low level of
R&D investment in UK industry (recent figures are promising,
and the Chancellor's pre-budget statement raised prospects of
further incentives, but there is more to do). We also need a financial
driver for SMEs who are often under such day to day pressure
that the promise of jam tomorrow (ie future profit) is not compelling,
and where there is cynicism about the usefulness and bureaucracy
of Government intermediary bodies. RDAs may be able to contribute
here, by focusing their resources on such things as cluster formation,
incubators and business clubs. Until that happens, the UK will
suffer from what a CVCP study this year called "a lack of
absorptive capacity" to make the best use of the outputs
15. The commitment to further rounds of
incentives to boost seed corn funds and entrepreneurialism in
universities is also welcome. By spinning out their own companies,
universities will obviously contribute more to economic development
and begin by example to build stronger relationships with high
growth SMEs. The Small Business Research Initiative proposal should
also boost connections between SMEs and universities, if it allows
universities to be involved with SMEs in the procurement process.
This is the type of win-win situation where there are clear incentives
for all players and which will lead to further co-operation in
due course as the partners develop mutual trust.
16. The White Paper's emphasis on science
and technology can overshadow the part to be played in innovation
by other disciplines. The White Paper appears to regard knowledge
and innovation, and the contribution that they can make to the
economy and the quality of life, as solely to do with science
and technology. But many of the new ideas in the knowledge economy,
including innovation in the increasingly important creative industry
sector, will come from research in other disciplines, including
the arts and humanities. That is one argument for the establishment
of an Arts and Humanities Research Council. We also need the insights
and training offered in the social sciences and in business and
management. Nor is it only research with evident commercial potential
that is to be valueduniversities are where fundamental
long-term work takes place.
17. Our major concern, however, is with
the wider funding needs of HE. There remain major teaching infrastructure
needs and resources to enable universities across the board to
recruit and retain high quality staff. The White Paper includes
welcome measures to improve recruitment, but much more will be
needed to attract the staff we need to work in our laboratories
and supervise the research students who will be attracted by rises
in PhD stipends. The needs of those universitiesunlikely
to be major recipients of research infrastructure funding, but
who make an important contribution to the national research effort,
not least by the teaching of graduates with research potential
in key studentsare also highly relevant.
18. We are aware of the science budget allocations
to the research councils, but note that the details of the methods
for allocating SRIF, UC, SEC and HEIF funds have still not been
11 January 2000