Memorandum submitted by the British Computer
1.1 The British Computer Society (BCS) is
the UK's Chartered Engineering Institution for Information Systems
Engineering, with over 38,000 members worldwide. It represents
the largest body of practitioners in Science and Engineering in
the UK, and a rapidly growing area of the UK economy.
1.2 The BCS welcomes the opportunity to
give evidence relating to the activities of the Royal Academy
of Engineering (RAEng) and the Royal Society (RS).
2.1 The RAEng and RS run a number of valuable
programmes for the Scientific and Engineering community. They
both support programmes including:
Research Fellowships, at various
2.2 However there are some distinctive activities,
eg the RAEng supports:
industrial secondments for academics;
engineering awareness activities
for 14-28 year olds (eg Head Start).
2.3 Similarly the RS has its own distinctive
activities, eg direct funding for research projects, and programmes
on public understanding of Science. It has funded important and
relevant research, eg on quantum computing.
2.4 All these activities are worthwhile,
and we would not wish to see them curtailed. We are particularly
positive about the RAEng's schemes for supporting exchange between
Universities and industry, as we believe this encourages better
understanding between the two communities.
2.5 The two bodies also have an important
role in advising the Government, and in promoting public understanding
of Science and Engineering. We feel that the two bodies are less
effective in these areas, and there remains a need for more effective
effort to communicate with Government and the public. For example,
both bodies need to do more to promote interest in Science and
Engineering in schools, to ensure that the UK retains its historic
strengths in Science and Engineering, with the concomitant contribution
to quality of life and economic health of the Nation.
3.1 Despite our generally positive views
of the RAEng and RS, we are very concerned about the poor representation
of modern areas of Science and Engineering. As a consequence the
RS and RAEng are not in a position to offer adequately informed
advice to the Government, in key areas.
3.2 We would include topics such as Systems
Engineering, nano-technology, and bio-informatics, in a list of
"modern" areas of Science and Engineering. However we
will focus on computing, as that is the BCS' area of expertise.
3.3 It is very difficult to find out precisely
how many Fellows of the Royal Society have computing as their
primary discipline. The Royal Society has advised that the number
is 11, although we believe the number to be closer to 20. We would
not question their pre-eminence, just that there are so few. By
way of illustration, there are 1600 research active academics
in computing, based on the last RAE. Physics and Computer Science
have similar proportions of 5/5* Departments and one would expect
to see proportionately similar representation in the RS. On this
basis 80 Fellows of the RS ought to be primarily in computing
3.4 One of the factors which has a heavy
influence on the admission to the RS are the criteria for each
panel. There is no panel for computing, and those who succeed
need to be admitted through the mathematics, physics or engineering
panels. There has been a recent International Review of Computer
Science undertaken by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council (EPSRC). The Report of the findings contains a valuable
description of what distinguishes Computer Science as a discipline.
The RS may find this helpful in ensuring it has relevant criteria
when assessing distinction in computing.
3.5 We are aware that the RS has recently
asked University Vice-Chancellors to nominate staff from "under-represented"
subjects, but there is an urgent need for more direct action to
address the representation of computing.
3.6 The RAEng has a rather better representation,
with 29 Fellows who are Members or Fellows of the BCS. There are
perhaps 100 more who have some involvement in computing; however
the vast majority of these use computers to support work in their
core disciplines, rather than being computing professionals. Thus
there are similar problems of under-representation of computing
in the RAEng, although not as extreme as in the RS, and the RAEng
is addressing the issue, eg by soliciting nominations from the
3.7 Our concern is not that there should
be representation of computing purely to achieve "parity".
However, the RS and RAEng cannot carry out their responsibilities
effectively for advising the Government, nor for improving public
understanding of computing issues, if they lack adequate access
to the expertise. It is essential the two institutions retain
their rigorous standards, but adapt their procedures to better
reflect the very rapid changes in the emerging disciplines. We
are concerned that there is not enough "critical mass",
particularly in the RS, to rectify the under-representation of
computing by natural evolution in a fast changing world.
4. BALANCE OF
4.1 The RAEng and RS receive about £4
million and £25 million per annum from the Government's Science
budget, respectively. We believe that the RAEng gives very good
value for money, supporting a comparable level of activity to
the RS. Thus, the disparity in funding between the two bodies
does not seem justifiable.
4.2 The work of the two bodies is very important
so we would not wish to see a reduction in their activities. Thus
we think it essential that the funding for the RS is preserved,
and that for the RAEng is increased, particularly for schemes
which support interaction between industry and academia.
5.1 In conclusion we commend the work of
the RS and RAEng in supporting Science and Engineering in the
UK and advising the Government. Our major concern is the small
number of Fellows of either body who represent computing or other
"modern" subjects. Also, we observe that the RAEng provides
much better value given the level of support from the Government.
5.2 Thus we recommend:
(1) The level of funding for the RS is preserved,
but the funding of the RAEng is increased substantially; and
(2) Both bodies are asked to put in place
(or strengthen) programmes to draw in members from "modern"
disciplines, and as a matter of urgency in computing. A review
of membership should be held after three years and the level of
funding for the bodies reconsidered if no significant increase
in numbers from the "modern" disciplines has occurred
in this time.
5.3 We recognise the need to ensure that
the high standards of membership of the RS and RAEng are maintained.
The BCS is willing to give more support to the two bodies in identifying
and assessing candidates of sufficient standing. Alternatively,
or in addition, it may be simplest to ask each 5/5* rated Computer
Science Department to nominate two or three Fellows to the RS,
to "pump prime" the growth in numbersthe international
standing of the members of those Departments is already established.