Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
The Spending Review 2000 outcome was the best
news for UK science for many years, but will only deliver its
intended impact if increases in funding can be sustained over
the long term.
The Government has recognised, through its Science
Budget allocations, the power of fundamental physics to drive
the IT (e-science) agenda, the importance of European collaboration
and the economic value of advanced technology. This was far-sighted
and will deliver important dividends over the medium to long term.
The increase in postgraduate student stipends
is welcome but does not go far enough to enhance the status of
careers in research.
The crisis in school physics teaching is a grave
threat to physics research and to future prosperity and must be
addressed, as a matter of urgency, across Government.
The 1993 White Paper
1. PPARC submitted a memorandum to the Committee
on the impact of the 1993 White Paper in June 2000. Our general
view then, which we re-assert now, was that overall the impact
of that White Paper had been positive.
Funding for Science and Technology
2. The Government's Spending Review announced
in July 2000 (and detailed in the Science Budget Allocations in
November 2000) was the best news for UK science for many decades.
If this can be sustained over the longer term it will help to
bring UK spending more into line with its international competitors.
More importantly it will underpin future economic and social progress.
University Research Infrastructure
3. Equally important was the continued commitment
to university research infrastructure announced, with the support
of the Wellcome Trust, in the Scientific Research Investment Fund
(SRIF), to continue the start made by the Joint Infrastructure
Fund. But the scientific community will need to work closely with
university vice-chancellors to ensure that it is targeted at regenerating
infrastructure in areas of highest scientific priority. Furthermore,
investment in research infrastructure, through routes such as
JIF or SRIF must be maintained over the long term if the research
infrastructure is not to decay back to the appalling state it
had reached before the JIF.
The 2000 White Paper
4. The 2000 Science and Innovation White
Paper (Cm 4814) contained a number of useful measures to improve
the economic exploitation of the UK science and technology base.
The recognition of the economic importance of physics in the 21st
century was welcome, if overdue.
5. The recruitment and retention of specialist
science teachers (recognised in the White Paper) remains a critical
issue. The entry to physics PGCE courses has fallen from 568 in
1993 to 205 by September 2000. The teaching of physics by generalist
science teachers (mainly not graduate physicists) is unsatisfactory.
School physics is the basis for many areas of economic and academic
activity from academic astrophysical research to electronic engineering.
There is a crisis in physics training. The OST commissioned report
on "International Perceptions of UK Physics and Astronomy"
is explicit in this respect:
*"Attracting a diverse and highly qualified
student population must start at the primary and secondary school
levels. One of the most worrying statistics brought to the attention
of the Panel is the recent drastic decline in the number of physicists
entering post-graduate teacher training courses. This may reflect
the poor salaries and increasing administrative loads in the teaching
profession, in particular in state schools. If so, urgent action
is required. The importance of maintaining the supply of young,
enthusiastic and well-qualified teachers cannot be underestimated."
6. It is not clear whether all parts of
government have sufficiently grasped the full significance of
this. Recently announced incentives to teachers, and the DfEE
Science Yeardue to start this September are worthy, but
unlikely to resolve the fundamental issues affecting specialist
7. We suggest that the Committee might address,
as a matter of urgency, the crisis facing specialist science teaching
in the UK. If it is not addressed successfully by government,
the new DTI/OST investments in science funding will not be able
to yield their full return in future years. We note that the House
of Lords S&T Committee are currently looking at science in
schools. We will look with interest at its findings.
November Science Budget Allocations
8. The Science Budget allocations announced
in November were unequivocally goods news for PPARC's research
programmes, though PPARC still faces some hard choices.
9. Of particular importance to PPARC were:
(a) E-Sciencethe Government has recognised
the role of modern fundamental physics (e-science) in driving
the IT agenda, in particular computational grids, which will be
driven by particle physicists, using the CERN Large Hadron Collider,
and astronomers with access to increasingly powerful telescopes
(ground and space based). Initially developed for research purposes,
computational grid technologies will revolutionise the present
world wide web as profoundly as the Web transformed the previous
inefficient internet operating systems. The techniques developed
will also find application in other scientific areas involving
enormous quantities of data such as genomics, and environmental
monitoring and climate change research. The Government has allocated
£98 million over three years under this heading of which
£26 million was allocated to PPARC.
(b) European Astronomythe Government
has recognised that, as in particle physics and space science,
UK and European science will compete effectively in the world
only if the UK is part of a strong European bloc. PPARC has received
an additional £10 million per year to allow the UK to joint
the European Southern Observatory (ESO). This will ensure that
UK astronomers are actively involved in global scale preparations
for the next generation of astronomy facilities, such as the Atacama
Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile and the very large (~50m)
optical/infrared telescopes now undergoing conceptual studies.
In addition, ESO membership will give UK astronomers access to
a suite of four world-class 8-meter ground-based telescopes, as
well as other state-of-the art facilities. But it will also require
PPARC to make some hard decisions in the coming months in rationalising
its existing commitments to existing, older, ground based facilities.
(c) Student Stipendsthe increase announced
in postgraduate student stipends is welcome, but does not go far
enough. PPARC has already agreed to speed up the rate of increase.
Even then the country will still be seriously undervaluing some
of its cleverest talent. Many high-quality students are prepared
to work for less than an economic rate because of their interest
and commitment to the subject. Increasing student indebtedness
and attractive alternative graduate employment prospects also
put the future supply of good physicists at risk. We would like
to see postgraduate student stipends further increased to compete
with other graduate options and to ensure that research is perceived
as a worthwhile and rewarding professions, valued by society.
(d) Basic Technology and Faraday Partnershipsresearch
in astronomy, space and particle physics has always depended on
the development of new technology, ever since Galileo invented
the telescope. Over the last century that technology has become
increasingly complex and sophisticated and has generated applications
from cancer treatment to drug design and satellite communications
and control. To facilitate future collaboration with industry,
PPARC recently led a review of its future needs for advanced technology
and extended this, with the other research councils to cover all
areas of research as part of the OST's Foresight Activity (copies
The Government's announcement of a cross-Council fund for basic
technology (£44m over three years) is therefore welcome and
PPARC expects its scientific community to benefit
from this fund, and has been pleased to join the DTI Faraday Partnership
Scheme, for which DTI has announced plans for further expansion.
This will enable PPARC scientists and engineers to develop new
technology more effectively in collaboration with UK industry
and scientists in other disciplines. PPARC expects to fund one
or two Faraday Partnerships in the coming year.
17 January 2001
28 Extract from 3.3 of the International Perceptions
of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy published by the Institute
of Physics May 2000. Back
Not printed. Back