Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Special Report




The Government welcomes the Committee's report Are We Realising Our Potential? The Government has noted the Committee's observations and recommendations which will make a helpful contribution to the Government's ongoing work on science and innovation.

The Government is firmly committed to maintaining and building on the excellence of the science base and to deriving maximum value from it. As the Committee has noted, the Government has introduced new initiatives over the past year, which were announced through Spending Review 2000 and the two White Papers Excellence and Opportunity - a science and innovation policy for the 21st century[2] and Opportunity for all in a world of change.[3] As the Government's memoranda to this inquiry have shown, these initiatives are underpinned by substantial amounts of new money and this underlines the Government's commitment to science. These increases in spending have been welcomed by the scientific community and the Committee.

The future of the science base depends not only on direct investment but also on stimulating an interest in science among young people. There is a need to ensure that young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills to become confident and informed users of science, and that they have a secure grounding from which they can go on to pursue scientific careers. The Government also recognises the importance of departmental research. Many of the initiatives announced in Excellence and Opportunity - such as the development of departmental science and innovation strategies and the implementation of stronger guidelines from the Chief Scientific Adviser[4] - are intended to ensure that research plays a full and effective part in Government policy making.

The Government is pleased to have this opportunity to present some of its achievements in these areas in response to concerns that the Committee has raised, and also to describe measures that have been introduced to support science education. Nonetheless, the Government is aware that there is no room for complacency and that there is still much to be done if the full potential of science and technology is to be realised and to ensure that the UK thrives in the global knowledge economy of this new century.

That said, as stated in Excellence and Opportunity, policy and management for many aspects of science and innovation have been devolved to the new administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While the remainder of this paper focuses largely on reserved activities, "the Government and the devolved administrations are committed to working together to translate the fruits of scientific research and invention into products and services that improve the economic and social well-being of all the people of Britain. They also recognise the need to work together to ensure that there is a strong UK Science Base supported by high quality science education, and that the public is well informed about scientific issues". The Scottish Executive has published the first comprehensive science strategy for Scotland and copies have been made available to the Committee. In Northern Ireland the Programme for Government includes a commitment to the publication of a regional Research, Development and Innovation Strategy by March 2002. Work is currently underway in developing the Strategy.

The Government looks forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the Committee and offers the following responses to the Committee's recommendations.

1. We recommend that Forward Look be published annually, and that it be published together with the statistical supplement. It is widely used by the science, engineering and technology community. (Paragraph 15)

2. We recommend that the next issue of Forward Look provide a clear statement of Government's overall strategy for science and technology and show explicitly how expenditure figures match policy objectives. We look forward to publication of the departmental strategies and trust that these will contain meaningful measures of Departments' science, engineering and technology performance. (Paragraph 16)

The Government has previously set out its rationale for publishing Forward Look in the year following a Spending Review, in the context of the Committee's inquiry into 'The Government's Expenditure on Research and Development - The Forward Look'. In a memorandum and two subsequent Government Responses, to the Committee's Fifth and Seventh Reports, the Government explained that:

    'the purpose of Forward Look is to present industrial and research communities with a clear and up-to-date statement of the Government's strategy for science, engineering and technology, and a statement of the Government's expenditure in this area. In the Government's view, it makes sense to publish Forward Look in the year following a Spending Review, so that it can set out departmental spending plans over the period of the Review'.

The Government stands by its view that there will be little justification for publishing a full Forward Look in the intervening years. Any adjustments in departmental spending will be updated in the Science, Engineering and Technology Statistics (SET Statistics) publication and departments themselves are increasingly making such information available, especially on the Internet. SET Statistics is published annually by the Office of Science and Technology (OST). It brings together in one place data from a range of sources relating principally to expenditure on science, engineering and technology. At present, SET Statistics is published as a Command Paper and is also placed on the OST website at . The Government would like to move, from this year, to publishing SET Statistics in electronic form only. The Government believes that electronic-only publishing will have significant advantages for users. In particular, it will allow for the document to be updated more frequently and with greater ease. At present, updating is constrained by the annual Command Paper publication timetable despite the fact that source data which feed SET Statistics become available at different times during the year. The Government believes that, by their very nature, the great majority of SET Statistics users are technically literate and are very likely to have Internet access and that, as a result, the costs of publishing the document on paper are probably no longer justified. It considers that adequate alternative arrangements can be made to cater for users who require paper copies.

Whilst wanting to maintain the link between Forward Look and the Spending Review cycle, the Government is committed to communicating plans and progress with respect to science and technology issues. The departmental science and innovation strategies being developed in accordance with the recommendations in the CST's report of S&T activity across Government[5] are a good example. These will be very closely linked to departmental objectives and should promote a much longer term and forward looking approach to the research underpinning policy making. An important element of the strategies is a description of the process for programme evaluation to assess the quality, relevance and progress of science related activities.

As well as providing the theme for the 2001 issue of Forward Look, it is intended that the departmental strategies will be published and updated on their websites. This exercise marks the first point at which all departments with an interest in science and technology will have produced a public statement of their strategies. Collectively, the strategies should provide a clear picture of the Government's approach to the use of science and technology. Their publication will enable the wider scrutiny of funding of science related activities in the context of departmental policy objectives and overall expenditure. The Government is also looking at the feasibility and desirability of linking science and technology domains on departmental websites through a central "science in Government" portal.

3. Government must actively promote Foresight to a broad range of industrial sectors, and in particular to SMEs. The learned societies, trade associations and the regional development agencies would provide useful focal points for this activity. (Paragraph 23)

The Government shares the view that Foresight should be promoted to as many stakeholders as possible to take forward the detailed recommendations and actions arising from the work of the Foresight Panels and Task Forces. Each of the Panels has engaged with key bodies in its sector, before and after the formal consultation process. Likewise, it is part of the job of the 12 Foresight Regional Co-ordinators to embed Foresight in the Regional Innovation and Economic Strategies. In addition, a number of Foresight Training Centres are about to be launched. These will train facilitators who will in turn provide both companies and Foresight co-ordinators in business support organisations, including Business Links and sectoral and trade bodies, with training in Foresight methodologies.

4. We recommend that Government make further use of Foresight in developing a coherent science, engineering and technology policy within and between Departments. (Paragraph 24)

The Foresight Directorate is at the heart of the Office of Science and Technology and is already part of the Government's trans-departmental SET policy-making machinery. During the next phase of the current round of Foresight (from now until 2004) the Panels and the Directorate will seek to implement the recommendations and actions resulting from the 2000 consultation process. This will ensure that the key messages that arise from Foresight will be targeted to reach the key players in Government and other central stakeholders.

5. On balance, Foresight has fallen short of its aims. It has the potential to be a valuable exercise but to date it has been disappointing. The quality of the second round reports is said to be variable. We look forward to the outcome of the review of Foresight being undertaken by the Minister for Science. In our view, Foresight needs to be refocused and revitalised. (Paragraph 25)

The Government welcomes the Committee's support for the Foresight review. The purpose of the review is to help focus Foresight for the rest of the current round and to make recommendations for the future of the programme. In particular it is considering whether:

  • the aims and objectives are properly focused;
  • the objectives have been met so far in the present round; and
  • the programme is properly structured and resourced.

The review will be a two-stage process. The first stage, which ran until the end of May, is to seek general views on the programme and the second is to consult on changes coming from that process.

Nevertheless, irrespective of the quality of the second round reports, many successful new networks have been established and this in itself is a valuable outcome.

6. The creation of the post of the Director General of the Research Councils appears to have been very successful. We regret, however, that the DGRC has become less visible of late: the post would benefit from a higher profile. (Paragraph 27)

7. We see no need at present for an "Expert Advisory Group" to advise the DGRC. (Paragraph 28)

8. The re-organisation of the Research Councils has proved a success. (Paragraph 30)

9. We recommend that the Director General of the Research Councils monitor closely interdisciplinary areas which cross council boundaries. The Research Councils should exchange best practice, looking where appropriate to remove unnecessary variations in working methods. (Paragraph 31)

10. The Research Councils seem to have got the balance about right, treating wealth creation and quality of life as secondary criteria to scientific excellence. (Paragraph 32)

11. We welcome the proposed change to the status of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, to bring it under the joint ownership of the grant awarding Research Councils. (Paragraph 33)

12. We look forward with interest to the outcome of the quinquennial review of the Research Councils. (Paragraph 34)

The Government is pleased to note that the Committee has recognised that the changes to the overall organisation of the Research Councils and the creation of the role of the Director General of the Research Councils (DGRC) have been successful.

As stated in the report, the DGRC is taking a close interest in cross council collaboration and meets monthly with the Chief Executives of the Research Councils (CERCs) as part of this process. The recent science budget settlement, under Spending Review 2000, included the creation of three cross council programmes: e-science, basic technology and post-genomics. These programmes have been established with cross council co-ordination and management structures, and CERCs will be monitoring the success of these arrangements in order to identify best practice.

The quinquennial review of the Research Councils is addressing the opportunities for enhancing co-ordination between councils, and their collective interaction with DGRC, as a means to further improve their effectiveness in identifying and supporting national science priorities, especially those of an interdisciplinary nature.

13. We consider that further efforts should be made to disseminate the Council for Science and Technology's work more widely. (Paragraph 37)

14. The Government should give more prominence to the activities of the Council for Science and Technology and respond to its recommendations. (Paragraph 38)

The Government values the work and advice of the Council, which is promulgated widely within and outside Departments. It also gives due recognition and prominence to the Council's distinctive and influential contribution to science, technology and innovation policies, as shown clearly over the past 12 months by the two White Papers, entitled Excellence and Opportunity and Opportunity for in all a world of change.

The Government is therefore pleased to take this further opportunity to acknowledge the Council's progress and performance following its re-establishment in 1998. The Council's standing and profile will continue to strengthen as its role and work develops, and its interactions with external organisations become more extensive.

As the Committee has noted, the Council's work and advice is published openly on its web site in considerable detail. Additionally, printed copies of its substantive reports are distributed to all interested parties within and outside Government. Furthermore, the Government normally issues a press release when such reports are published.

The Government's regular practice is to respond to each of these reports and to publish the responses on the Council's web site. Normally, the timing for these responses is discussed and agreed with the Council so that it can take into account relevant policy developments. The Council is also provided with the opportunity to consider and discuss the responses, and to determine any further follow up actions that its independent members might wish to take for monitoring or other purposes.

Regarding the Council's wide-ranging report of March 2000 on Technology Matters, the Government provided its response for members' consideration at their meeting on 5 March 2001. This timing had been agreed previously by members so that they could take account of the Skills, Enterprise and Innovation White Paper, Opportunity for all in a world of change, which was published a few weeks before. This response, along with the Council's Annual Report for the year ending March 2001, has now been published on its web site.

15. Universities have improved their technology transfer capabilities and links with industry. (Paragraph 42)

16. We recommend that the Government encourage greater collaboration and joint working to develop best practice on technology transfer across universities and to enhance the commercial exploitation of research. (Paragraph 42)

Different Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have different contributions to make, some as world class centres of research excellence and players in global markets, others primarily as collaborators with local businesses and communities and with regional actors. They must choose the role which best suits their strengths, with public funding encouraging such choice by providing incentives for institutions to become more entrepreneurial, to build closer links with business and the community and to have proper arrangements for exploiting the results of their work.

As the Committee has suggested, there are some notable university based centres of expertise in knowledge transfer and evidence of increased links with business and developing capability. Government measures such as the Higher Education Reach to Business and the Community Fund (HEROBC) have sought to help raise the academic credibility of knowledge transfer activities.

The Government agrees that further institutional and cultural change is necessary and that this will not happen overnight. However, it believes that the establishment of a permanent third stream of funding for HEIs to support their knowledge transfer activities, the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), will be a significant incentive for step change. HEIF will incorporate the existing HEROBC scheme and an additional £80 million will bring the total funding available to £140 million over the next three years. HEIF will continue to support the development of HEIs' ability to interact with business and will also provide a source of funding to support the setting up of further University Innovation Centres along the lines of those announced in the recent White Paper Opportunity for all in a world of change.

The Government has announced the call for proposals for the second rounds of Science Enterprise Challenge and University Challenge. These competitions are aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship and commercialisation of research, and have successful track records. The Science Enterprise Challenge has already led to the establishment of twelve Science Enterprise Centres in UK universities, involving collaboration among a total of 34 HEIs. The University Challenge has resulted in the creation of 15 seed funds managed by universities in the UK, with a total value of over £60 million, including £25 million in Government funding. Some straightforward practical measures are also being taken. For example, a web based brokering service was launched on 23 May 2001 to help match universities having technology available to exploit with entrepreneurs looking for development opportunities. The University Technology Directory can be accessed from the Association of University Research and Industry Links (AURIL) website at .

The Government notes the Committee's concern over possible skills shortage. As announced in the Excellence and Opportunity White Paper, the Government intends to work with universities, public sector research establishments and other interested bodies to review how best to stimulate the provision of training for people working in this field. The Government also notes the Committee's recommendation that there should be greater encouragement of collaboration and joint working to develop best practice on technology transfer across universities. This is envisaged in the consultation document on the design and scope of HEIF.

17. In the longer term Government should look to rationalise the plethora of technology transfer schemes aiming to develop a simplified, flexible unbureaucratic approach. (Paragraph 43)

18. Ministers should resist the temptation to launch new schemes when it would be better to strengthen existing ones. (Paragraph 43)

23. In the longer term Government should look to rationalise the network of innovation support schemes. (Paragraph 49)

The Government runs a number of long-standing schemes to assist knowledge transfer between the research community and business which meet a variety of needs. It is keeping the issue of whether these can be simplified and improved under review. In many cases, existing schemes have been strengthened, for example LINK and Smart (Small Firms Merit Award for Research and Technology), or are being streamlined, for example support for knowledge transfer between HEIs and the community at large will be consolidated into HEIF. The Government acknowledged in the recent white paper Opportunity for all in a world of change the need to deliver support more quickly and with less bureaucracy, taking full advantage of advances in technology and to market support in a way which responds more directly to business needs. The third round of Foresight LINK Awards included a pilot process for speeding up decision making. The results of an evaluation of this process will feed into a strategic review of LINK expected to report in Spring 2002.

19. We recommend that the Government develop an overarching strategy for technology transfer activities and publish a framework to be actively promoted to all interested parties. (Paragraph 44)

The strategic direction of knowledge transfer activities is set out in the Government's science and innovation strategies. The Government has also set up a knowledge transfer group, made up of DTI and DfES officials and representatives of interested parties such as the Research Councils, the Regional Development Agencies and the CBI. This is considering knowledge transfer policy and the development of a strategy to rationalise DTI activities at the HEI-business interface.

20. We recommend that Government promote secondment schemes more actively and consider expanding those already in existence. (Paragraph 45)

The Government agrees that there is a need to highlight the benefits of secondments between academia and business. The recently launched Business Fellowships initiative was designed with the aim of raising the profile of the people dimension of knowledge transfer. It is also intended to build on universities' existing HEROBC projects to raise the academic credibility of collaboration with business. Similar activities will also be fundable under HEIF.

The December 1998 Competitiveness White Paper, Our Competitive Future - Building the Knowledge Driven Economy, contained a commitment by DTI to double its expenditure on TCS (previously known as the Teaching Company Scheme). As a result it is expected that there will be close on 1,000 TCS Programmes current by the end of 2001. The graduates who undertake the project work in participating companies as TCS Associates are supported both by the company and by academic staff. This requires the academic partner in every TCS Programme to spend on average at least half a day per week at the company supervising the Associate and their project, thus providing the opportunity to transfer and implant their own knowledge into the company. As of 31 March 2001, there were 406 academic departments from 98 different HEIs participating in TCS, of which 71 departments were participating in TCS for the first time. Around 80% of TCS Programmes result in plans for further collaboration between the company and academic partners.

21. Universities must protect their intellectual property appropriately, in the long term interest of both the university and the UK as a whole. The funding regime may need to be changed to allow the universities to take a longer term perspective. (Paragraph 46)

As it has noted before, the Government strongly agrees that universities need to protect their intellectual property appropriately. Universities need to be able to establish arrangements which give all parties incentives to develop, protect and exploit intellectual property in a way which serves the long term interests of universities without them being deflected from their traditional roles of research and teaching. This in turn depends on a clear understanding within universities of intellectual property and the issues it raises, and of the range of options for commercialising the results of research. This is why the Government is working with AURIL and Universities UK (UUK) to develop best practice guidance which will heighten awareness of what makes for successful commercialisation of intellectual property.

The Government is keen to help institutions in order to ensure effective transfer of higher education knowledge and expertise to achieve long-term economic and social benefits. That is why the support available for knowledge transfer is also being increased. As already stated in response to recommendations 15 and 16, £80 million is being provided by OST through the HEIF in England over the next three years to help institutions build capacity in this area. There are also further rounds of University Challenge and Science Enterprise Challenge, and the number of Faraday Partnerships is being increased.

22. The management of intellectual property is critical if the UK is to be competitive in the global knowledge driven economy. (Paragraph 47)

The Government agrees. It notes the Committee's welcome for measures outlined in Excellence and Opportunity. The aim is not only that universities and research establishments should make full use of the intellectual property system, but that their use of the system should be driven by the objective of maximising successful commercialisation of the results of research. That is the purpose of these measures and the AURIL guidelines for universities mentioned above.

23. In the longer term Government should look to rationalise the network of innovation support schemes. (Paragraph 49)

See above.

24. We recommend that the Government publish a guide outlining the schemes available to SMEs and actively promote these schemes, for example through the Regional Development Agencies and trade associations. (Paragraph 49)

The Small Business Service will maintain up-to-date information on Government schemes available to SMEs as part of its Gateway service at . This service will be widely marketed to SMEs and their advisers. In addition, SMEs are encouraged to speak to Business Link Advisers who can help them find the most appropriate sources of help and advice available in their locality.

25. We welcome the Government's introduction of measures to support innovative small businesses. (Paragraph 50)

The support of innovative small businesses is, and will continue to be, an important part of the work of the Small Business Service, its network of local Business Link Operators and the specialist sponsor directorates of DTI.

26. We welcome the fiscal measures introduced in the Budget to encourage research and development and recommend that uptake be carefully monitored. Government should also conduct a proactive campaign to promote innovation among those parts of industry which are not traditionally strong in R&D. (Paragraph 51)

The Government agrees that any research and development (R&D) tax incentive for companies should be evaluated and uptake carefully monitored. R&D tax credits for SMEs were introduced in the Finance Act 2000, and figures for this scheme will be available in 2002, when companies incurring R&D expenditure have sent in their tax returns for the first year of operation of the scheme. Consultation on tax credit for larger firms' R&D was announced in Budget 2001, and the Government is considering the results of the consultation exercise. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has indicated that the Government's conclusions will be made known in his Pre-Budget Report.

The Government also agrees that it should promote innovation. This is done through direct measures to create incentives for R&D, such as the R&D tax measures, which in turn will be promoted through a pro-active campaign. In addition, the Government provides support for a number of activities to encourage business innovation, for example through collaborative R&D. The Government also publishes annually the R&D Scoreboard, which highlights to a wide range of FTSE industrial sectors the importance of R&D and innovation as key drivers for business growth.

27. There needs to be better dialogue between scientists and the public. (Paragraph 53)

The Government continues to work with others to help facilitate this dialogue. Scientists need to feel equipped to play their part. In this regard, and with the OST's encouragement, the Research Councils are strengthening and broadening communication training. Following its recent review of its research funding, HEFCE is working to improve standards in the provision of research training, including broader personal and transferable (including communication) skills.

The Wellcome Trust report, The Role of Scientists in Public Debate, which presents the results of a nation-wide survey of scientists' views on communicating their work to the public, provides useful pointers on how dialogue between scientists and the public might be improved.

The Government recognises the importance of engaging the public in debate on important scientific issues, particularly those which impact on society or raise ethical questions. A number of substantial measures aimed at achieving this and making public dialogue a normal and integral part of the process by which scientists provide advice to Government have been initiated.

Regular consultation and an open meeting policy are important aspects of the remits of the Food Standards Agency, the Human Genetics Commission and the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission. This approach demonstrates ongoing commitment of these three bodies to listening to the public and taking account of their views.

In addition the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, shortly to be published, will make clear that all scientific committees should consult with stakeholders and the public, particularly on issues which generate widespread public concern or raise significant ethical questions. The Government believes that this, together with other provisions in the Code and Guidelines 2000, represent further significant steps.

28. We welcome the increasing use of the term "Science and Society" or, even better, "Science for Society", to describe activities to promote dialogue and mutual understanding between the scientific community and the public. (Paragraph 55)

The Government agrees. It is important that all members of society are given the opportunity to take part in the debate about the issues that modern science raises.

The Government recognises the need to better understand the public's attitudes to science and how they wish to be engaged on scientific issues. The OST/Wellcome Trust report Science and the Public, published in October 2000, is important in this regard. It includes results of a national survey into public attitudes to science which suggest that the British public is basically pro-science. The survey also provides useful pointers on the public's preferred methods of engagement on scientific issues. The science communication community is now considering how best to make use of this information. For example, the Research Councils and OST will be funding further research into how this, and similar, information might best inform their own science communication programmes. In OST's case, this will feed into the review of its programme.

As stated in the Excellence and Opportunity White Paper, it is important that there are plenty of opportunities for the public to learn about and debate scientific developments. The Government, working with, and through, others such as the Research Councils, science centres, Science Year, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA), the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) and the Learned Societies, will play its part in creating these opportunities.

Knowledge and understanding in the social sciences is as important as in the natural sciences in order to improve the level of quantitative and qualitative skills for analysis of social and economic issues. The Economic and Social Research Council has taken a number of steps to improve the standard of social science teaching in Britain, and to enhance the skills that are necessary for the rigorous analysis of public policy.

29. We recommend that the Government work with the scientific community to build a new strategy for promoting science and technology, building upon the work already being done but reaching out to a broader range of participants and a wider audience. (Paragraph 56)

As stated above, the Government will continue to work with the Research Councils, the BA, Learned Societies and many others to bring coherence to the UK science communication effort. It believes that the remodeled COPUS will play a key role in developing the strategy recommended by the Committee. COPUS's new Council will be broader and more representative of the science communication community. The Government hopes that it will, among other things, address overlaps and gaps in provision. The OST/Wellcome Trust report, Science and the Public provides useful pointers on this.

2   Excellence and Opportunity, a science and innovation policy for the 21st century, (Cm 4814), July 2000. Back

3   Opportunity for all in a world of change, (Cm 5052), February 2001. Back

4   Guidelines 2000: Scientific Advice and Policy Making, (URN 00/1026), July 2000. Back

5   Review of S&T Activity across Government. Report by the Council for Science and Technology, July 1999. Back

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