Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. That would be the same charge as that going to a university?
  (Mrs Brindley) yes, for a document, if we are talking about remote document supply. But do not forget that access to the Reading Rooms is free for anybody who needs to use that service; if you want a document delivered to you then, yes, there is a charge.

  61. You have said that the level of charging is established by the Treasury. Is this something over which you have no discretion?
  (Mrs Brindley) It is the guidelines and the rules.

  62. The guideline is there should be no difference?
  (Mrs Brindley) Yes.

  63. That is established by the Treasury?
  (Mrs Brindley) Yes.

  64. Do you think you ought to have discretion over that? The argument being if someone is beavering away on something which is going to result in a new drug on the market which will generate millions of profit, is there not a case for saying that the access to the documents which contributed to the generation of those profits should be subject to a higher level of recharge than someone who is researching 14th century history in Southern Spain?
  (Mrs Brindley) I think you could always make the case. I think though the arguments would be made back to us that they pay taxes and we are supported through the public purse in the same way. I think there would be some argument made against that, and—I think too, against making judgments by discipline, it is very clear, for example, that we have in David Starkey a major user of our services who is clearly making several millions.


  65. He can afford to pay.
  (Mrs Brindley) I think the cultural industry is catching up with some of our more traditional commercial users.

  66. Knowing David he is probably going to give you a couple of million in a minute.
  (Mrs Brindley) We would be delighted if he would.

  67. Can I ask, I want to broaden the discussion in a minute but I notice from the information that you have given to us that the Research Support Libraries Programme is for a limited period, it is going to come to an end. Why is that, because the mission is accomplished or what?
  (Sir Brian Follett) No, I think they are waiting for my report, Sir, to come forward. The great bulk of that money is being distributed in a complicated formula to ensure that all bona fide researchers in universities have free access to all other university research libraries. So the money goes differentially to institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge or the London School of Economics or Manchester where there are a very large number of physical visitors coming to do research in those libraries. Certainly it is likely that something along those lines should be continued; it widens access. It is quite interesting actually that in all our discussions with researchers we have not run into a major issue over them travelling to other libraries. One might have expected that the younger ones would have complained about the cost or whatever it was, but clearly people move around this country very easily these days and think nothing of travelling 100 miles to another university. Of course some types of research, particularly in the humanities, they like to do it in that way because in many ways they are practising their research actually in the library as distinct from another model for research which might be in a laboratory.

  68. Sir Brian, you are a very unusual breed in front of this Committee, you seem very content about the present situation. If you track this back from 1993, the original report, 1993, the Anders Report, and the report that is about to come out, I get the feeling from you that everything is on track, we are doing all right. Is there any area where you think there is a real challenge and perhaps we are being a little bit complacent?
  (Sir Brian Follett) We have to be extremely careful. We have one per cent of the world's turnover doing 4 per cent of the research and we have had about 10 per cent of the citations so in many ways we have done well. I am not complacent, I am not negative.

  69. No.
  (Sir Brian Follett) I think on the whole the British research enterprise over the last 10 years, particularly in the universities, has been one of our unsung success stories. I think the Government has understood that and is starting to invest, and people like David Sainsbury, appreciate public sector R&D. I think in that sense I feel we have resolved it. There are a number of ways in which it has happened in the last 15 years, including some which by themselves are contentious—assessment exercises, all sorts of things—but put together and ask the question "Has any other country managed to do any better or come up with a better method" then I do not know of one as a matter of fact, that is not to say I am not critical of aspects of work done. One of our risks I think must be that people outside the really intense research centres will find themselves slightly at risk. Already we have got a situation, as we well know in Britain, with the vast bulk of the research money going to a matter of about a fifth of the total number of universities. Since I am no longer a vice-chancellor I am freer to say that there is a really great concentration of resource and I think that has been very good because the risk is that if we do not concentrate the resource in research we shall end up in a situation of not having a critical mass. If you do not have a critical mass in research, and I am doing for the rest of my working week a Government inquiry on foot and mouth disease, and it is very clear there that one of the great problems worldwide is that these sorts of areas of research have only a handful of people working on them worldwide, so the critical mass thing is important. On the other hand, I am very keen on access so I would want whatever structure we develop, whether it is the research facilities or whether it is the libraries which we are talking about, to have a maximum access displayed.
  (Lord Eatwell) I must say, Chairman, if I could come in. You asked if everybody was saying that things were pretty good, I am actually very nervous. I am very nervous because we are number one and that position has to be sustained. It seems to me it has to be sustained for two reasons. First, it is a great achievement for this country to have the best research library in the world but more important than that sort of national glory is the fact that this library stands at the centre of our higher education system and our national research system. Funding that resource is a challenge; it is a challenge to the country as a whole, to the taxpayer, as to whether they feel that is an appropriate thing to fund. It is a challenge to us at the Library to manage our resources efficiently and to ensure that we really get value for money in a period of very rapid change, during this process of: development of digital collections as well as the growth of paper collections that we referred to earlier. I am quite nervous as to whether we will be able to sustain that postion, I think we will, but it is quite a challenge for us.

  70. Lord Eatwell, can I come back to you in a second on that but I must get Sir Brian on a supplementary and then I can call in Jonathan on this because I think Jonathan is on the same track as me so I will get in before him. When you say you are quite happy that research money is concentrated on a fifth of British universities, the worry this Committee often has is if this is sort of in concrete that the 20 per cent get it, we have felt when we have taken evidence in various inquiries that makes the opportunity for universities, dare I say, like Warwick, that one would not have thought were in the forefront of research a number of years ago, steaming up the research ladder, the league table, as it did under your vice chancellorship. Is there a real danger that would happen and the Warwick experience, the Warwick changes might not happen if we have too much concentration in just 20 per cent of UK universities?
  (Sir Brian Follett) Yes, there is a risk, it could happen and certainly I would agree with you that watching the way that we often thought at Warwick, if it gets solidified we would never have been able to do what was achieved at York or Warwick or Nottingham or other institutions. So I think it has to be maintained in a flexible way. Also I would concur with your general thesis that it is possible to construct a funding system which makes that impossible to happen. I do not think it is so yet but we have always, since we began this whole business of trying to build the research base in Britain in the middle 1980s, had to have this competition, on the one hand the requirement to sustain the research at a level which was comparable with that in the United States, and that is exceedingly difficult, when you think that the NIH budget has doubled and is currently 14 billion dollars and our total is about 1,500 million dollars, that is just the NIH, but at the same time to allow as much flexibility as possible. It is a challenge which has occurred throughout the 1980s and 1990s. I think it can be done but it is always a dynamic challenge.

  71. Does Howard sing from the same hymn sheet? I know another committee parallel with this is looking at RAE.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Yes a committee which unfortunately was not able to receive evidence from me because I was before the Public Accounts Committee on the same day.

  72. Now is your chance to have your own back.
  (Sir Howard Newby) First of all, the degree of concentration is the outcome of many separate decisions made by many peer review panels, it is not an input into those decisions. In a sense what we see is the chips falling where they may. What has occurred, of course, on this occasion is that, as you know, the resources were not available to fully fund the outcome on the basis of the previous funding formula and that has meant that we have not been able to recognise in cash terms the very considerable improvement that has been made across the vast majority of the universities, I have to say, not just the 25 or so that Brian referred to, but that is for another day, and we are in the middle of a spending review and we hope we can win the fight to get some of those resources back, we shall see. Certainly I think it is a very good investment. In the mean time—and I think if we are realistic this will be the case whatever additional resources we get through the spending review—we have to develop more robust forms of collaboration between institutions so that no talented researcher should be in a position where he or she cannot get access to the kinds of resources that he or she needs to conduct research, and then we are right back into the debate we have been having.

  73. I think you have nicely described, all of you, how the network meshes together and we need this vital resource of the British Library as a part of that support that mixed research of high quality offers. Howard, did I cut you off?
  (Sir Howard Newby) No.

  Chairman: Jonathan, do you want a quick one?

  Mr Shaw: No, surprisingly you have asked the questions I wanted to ask.

Jeff Ennis

  74. Chair, just following on the lines of the question you have just been pursuing. One of the key components for future funding has to be income generation. What percentage of existing income is generated from overseas and what are the future opportunities for trying to increase both income generation in this country and more especially from abroad?
  (Mrs Brindley) You are asking for the British Library?

  75. Yes, the British Library. It is going back to the discussion we had earlier about the document supply division at Boston Spa.
  (Mrs Brindley) Yes. I do not have the exact figure. The Library's total trading income is about £25 million.

  76. That is what you quoted earlier.
  (Mrs Brindley) About a third, or just over a third because of the differential charges, of the total generated from overseas. I can confirm those figures for you. In terms of opportunity, I think we have always seen, and I am sure this is right, that our core markets have to be UK, undoubtedly. I think for some of the services to businesses, we are seeing multinationals, if you like, trying to take greater advantage of our services, GlaxoSmithKline being a very good example so I think there are opportunities there. I think increasingly though other countries are setting up their own arrangements that parallel ours. France does this in terms of its scientific documentation and as you would expect in France it is a hugely subsidised operation. I think we are seeing increasingly competitive market place out there for that kind of service.

  77. It will be more difficult in the future?
  (Mrs Brindley) I think it will not be easier. I think in some new service areas we can develop.

  78. Moving on to the Government's widening participation agenda in higher education. If the Government is successful in achieving the 50 per cent target rate by 2010 how will that impact on the resources which are supplied by the British Library and in future how will it impact?
  (Mrs Brindley) My interpretation of the aspiration to get to 50 per cent is that higher education libraries and institutions are going to be increasingly inevitably using more of their resources on supporting teaching and learning simply to create enough or buy enough material for the mass requirements of teaching. My interpretation of this will be that there will be increasing reliance at the research level on our national collections. Actually it puts then even more onus on us to try to preserve the value of what we are collecting for the national good.

  79. That has not been quantified in specific detail?
  (Mrs Brindley) I have not tried to quantify that yet.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Let me help a little if I can. I fully endorse that. I think there is just the danger, which I hope we have foreseen by setting up Brian's group, that while we are being quite single mindedly focused on achieving that target at the funding council through the institutions, we could simply inadvertently not take account of the knock on effects on research resources in our libraries. To hit the 2010 target will mean a 35 per cent expansion in student numbers in England by 2010. It will mean, also, an additional 15 to 17,000 academic staff. Many of those will be users certainly of research resources in the British Library. We have to ensure also that because of the geographical distribution of those 350,000 or so, the extra 35 per cent of students, we will be needing to develop higher education in parts of the country where local provision is not always there, or at least it may be under-provided. There is a kind of geographical dimension to all this as well, putting in proper teaching and learning and therefore library facilities into institutions in those parts of the country where they scarcely exist. Fortunately we have extended, as I said earlier, the JISC to now include the further education sector and through them, because of their interest in sixth forms into some schools. So it is beginning to happen but this just illustrates why we need to manage very carefully this expansion over the next seven years both in terms of the geography of provision but also in terms of how it is going to be supplied in terms of full-time students, part-time students, the mix of honours students and other kinds of higher education qualifications, how much of it is going to be online, how much of it is going to include information on means, how much in the work place, how much through HEIs.

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