Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institute of Physics

   The Institute of Physics, the professional body and learned society representing physics and physicists, with over 37,000 members, is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's Inquiry into Government Funding of Scientific Learned Societies.

  The Institute receives no Government funding for its core activities and does not wish to do so. The Director General of the Research Councils' Memorandum to the Science and Technology Committee, dated 7 February states that "the EPSRC makes small sums available annually to the Institute of Physics (c£65,000.00). . . ". This primarily relates to funds provided for an annual summer school in Condensed Matter Physics for which the EPSRC provides travel and subsistence funds for participants, and the Institute acts as a transient holder of funds. All monies received are distributed with none retained for administration costs. This is a legitimate role for learned societies, and ensures that Research Council funds are efficiently and effectively disbursed in line with the objectives of the Council.

  Learned societies value their independence. They are funded primarily by members, and conference and publishing income. Where publishing is successful, as is the case with the Institute of Physics, funds are generated which are used to promote physics and support physicists. It is without fear or favour that societies like the Institute of Physics can either commend or criticise Government.

  The Government and its agencies have, in the past, not made as much use of the experience and expertise which lies within learned societies, as they could or should. The Institute receives for comment most of the relevant (to physics) documents issued by Government Departments, Select Committees or Research Councils, and endeavours to consult the membership and respond within the, occasionally short, timescale.

  But the learned societies have more to offer Government, as demonstrated by the Office of Science and Technology's approach, in 2000, to the Institute as well as the Royal Astronomical Society, to conduct a review of the standing of UK Physics Research.[6] The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council were co-sponsors and provided the majority of the funds for the Review. This is a pertinent example of how the wealth of knowledge and expertise residing within the Institute of Physics can be used to benefit the nation. The Institute would welcome further invitations to become involved in projects or Inquiries at the behest of Government and its agencies.

  The Institute, in common with other learned societies, including the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, is concerned to ensure that science is well taught in schools and is communicated effectively to the public. The Institute has a comprehensive, on-going, programme aimed at schools and the public in general. Our Schools Lecturer undertakes a punishing programme of visits to schools throughout the United Kingdom. Each year the lecture is delivered to more than 10,000 school children at over thirty centres. (The Institute has, on occasion, received small grants from Research Councils and other funders towards the costs of the tour). At our Annual Congress, we run a series of lectures for the public which, over three days, attracts upwards of 1,000 individuals from wherever Congress is held. In addition, the Institute has recently launched a scheme aimed at encouraging young physicists to hone their communication skills by giving public lectures in their localities. We also publish a widely available booklet giving the names of physicists who both have the necessary communication skills and are ready, willing and able to talk to audiences of adults or children. Preparation and dissemination of careers materials and teaching resources are also key elements of our programme.

  All the above communication activities are funded by the Institute, sometimes enhanced by grants and sponsorships, in open competition. The Research Councils have their own programmes for communicating with the public and schoolchildren and some co-ordination of activities with those of the Institute is obtained through staff-level liaison and Institute representation on committees of EPSRC and PPARC. The Institute is, however, aware that more could and, indeed, should be done to obtain better co-ordination of our public understanding activities.

  The learned societies, as independent bodies reflecting and building on the wide scientific community and able to work both nationally and regionally, are crucial to the future of science and its exploitation for the benefit of the United Kingdom's health and wealth. They should be neither dependent on, nor divorced from, Government support and funding for science, but the two sectors should work collaboratively and openly, where appropriate, drawing on their differences and common features to promote their separate, but complementary objectives.

April 2002

6   International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy (2000), a review sponsored by EPSRC, PPARC, the Institute of Physics and The Royal Astronomical Society. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 6 August 2002