Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 75-79)

SIR ALEC BROERS, PROFESSOR ANN DOWLING, AND MR JON BURCH

WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002

Chairman

  75. Sir Alec, may I welcome you and your team here. You have met this Committee before in the previous Parliament. It is great to have you back and can I say thank you for extending that invitation to a lunch time meeting with your Academy. That was very welcome and has helped fill us in on lots of the issues. You may like a minute to introduce your team to the Committee and for the record. Welcome.

  (Sir Alec Broers) Thank you, Chairman. It is a privilege to be back here. As most people know, I am President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and I have accompanying me today Professor Ann Dowling who is a Vice President of the Academy and also a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge, and Mr Jon Burch who is the Chief Executive of the Academy. May I just say two things at the very beginning please, Chairman. I think the Academy has reported to you in detail in response to your questions and I hope that our submission presents our wide ranging activities in a clear and persuasive manner. Certainly I am not going to summarise those activities but we do look forward to answering your questions. From your visit to the Academy in March I realise that you understand, as we do, that the output of the country's creative engineers is crucial to the competitiveness of the country and the nation as a whole and the qualify of the life of all of its people. To contribute to society today we have to reach the frontiers of technology and to do this requires engineers who have a full understanding of the science of their subjects and go on beyond that to understand the practicalities and the economics of their subjects, then understand what their competitors are doing and what their competing technologies are doing. This is a high mountain to climb, very few are able to do it or have the ability. We like to think we have gathered those people in the UK who have achieved most in that endeavour into the Academy and that is why we think the Academy is a very valuable body.

  76. Thank you very much. We appreciate those sentiments too and understand why science is so important in our nation today. Can I just lob you the easy one perhaps at the beginning. Similar to the Royal Society we talked about elitism, and we can argue all day about that, but you get 5 million from the Government, something of that order. Why do you think that is valuable and why should the Government, the taxpayer inevitably, give you that money? What do they see for it?
  (Sir Alec Broers) Because it enables that group I have just described to engage in a broad range of activities that I do not think it would have without that vital seed funding that we get from our grant in aid. As we have laid out in our report to you, we manage to lever that money in most instances by two to one, at least. That underlying funding—if you look at the way we spend our money—I think you will find is quite essential in mounting programmes that we can encourage people to add to.

  77. It has been argued by some other societies who have written to us that by taking government money your independence is lost somewhat. We would not go as far as to call you cronies of course—they call us that—it might look like you might lose some of your independence and critical faculties at government because you are tied to them by this grant, they might in a bad moment take away it from you, for example.
  (Sir Alec Broers) I do not agree with you, Chairman, I think we would not be before this Select Committee if we did not receive funding perhaps. We want to be part of the decision making body of this country which includes Government. We appreciate being a part of the government system and being paid partly by Government. We think we deliver very good value for the money we get and we enjoy being part of that whole process.

  78. Why should you get less money than the Royal Society? You are doing very similar things and have similar aims and ambitions.
  (Sir Alec Broers) We are relatively young, we are quite ambitious, Chairman.

  79. You are on Child Benefit, are you?
  (Sir Alec Broers) We are only 25 years old so we are on our way, shall we say. We do realise that one of our missions is working with industry and with business. That is what engineers like to do. Engineers like to take their ideas and see them used for the benefit of mankind. If we are working with industry and business we do not see why they should not help pay. I think perhaps we are closer to the coalface than the Royal Society.

 


 
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