Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the UK Life Sciences Committee


  The UK Life Sciences Committee (UKLSC), which receives no government funding, and which is run on a very limited budget, has made a significant impact in the five years of its existence. It is influential in science policy with government and research funders, a leading voice on animal science issues, and is becoming increasingly recognised in the education arena.

  The ethos of UKLSC has been to identify issues that need attention, that are not being addressed satisfactorily by others, and on which UKLSC feels that it can make a difference. To achieve its objectives UKLSC has always sought collaborations with other leading bodies in the medical and physical sciences. Its ability to secure such collaborations is brought out in this memorandum.

General information

  1.  UKLSC is an umbrella body representing 17 leading learned societies (see Appendix) comprising some 35,000 cell, molecular and physiological life scientists working in academia or in industry in the UK and abroad. Neither the UKLSC nor any of its constituent member societies receive government funding in the form of recurrent grants or subsidy of premises. Individual societies have been successful from time to time in winning small government grants to enable them to carry out specific projects.

  2.  The income of UKLSC societies derives almost entirely from publishing activities and from membership subscriptions. The activities of UKLSC are funded by a levy of societies on a stepped scale according to the number of members in individual societies. This brings in just over £17,000 which supports the science policy work of the main committee and a part-time committee secretary, and just over £16,000 which supports the work of the Animal Science sub-group and a part-time co-ordinator. The Animal Science Group invites external organisations having similar interests to attend its meetings and participate in its activities. The Royal Society is one of these, and donates an additional £3,000 to fund the work of the Animal Science Group. While UKLSC has only a small financial capitalisation constituent societies have much larger resources, and UKLSC can, of course, draw on the considerable scientific expertise present within member societies.

  3.  UKLSC serves the public interest by co-ordinating and advancing the interests of the life sciences in the areas of:

    —  Informing Government policy and other public policy regarding science and its funding;

    —  Education of scientists from school to post-doctoral level;

    —  Communicating science in the public domain;

    —  Monitoring developments in professional matters and career development, which might potentially affect the productivity of the scientific disciplines represented by constituent Societies;

    —  Exchange of information and co-operation in the planning and running of scientific meetings.

  4.  Further information about UKLSC and its Animal Science and Education groups can be obtained from its web site:

Activities of the UKLSC

Science Policy

  5.  UKLSC responds consistently to consultations on science and education policy and the use of animals in research. In 2001 it made nine submissions: two to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, one to the Office of Science and Technology, one to the Treasury, two to Lords and Home Office committees dealing with animal issues, one to the European Commission, one to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and one to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It is often difficult to gauge the impact made by such submissions, but UKLSC evidence has been referenced in the reports of some inquiries and its current chair called to present oral evidence to an inquiry into the use of animals in research.

  6.  UKLSC is also proactive and has had considerable success in identifying issues and bringing together organisations from across the biological and chemical sciences to address them. For example:

    —  in 1999-2000 it brought together a Working Party to address issues in Postgraduate Training in the Life Sciences. Chaired by Sir Brian Follett, the Working Party had members from the Wellcome Trust, BBSRC, MRC, Royal Society, UK Council for Graduate Education, and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). The Working Party report contributed to the OST decision to increase stipends for Research Council-funded PhD studentships.

    —  also in 1999-2000 UKLSC was the driving force behind the establishment of the Foresight Associate Programme for the Molecular Biosciences. The planning committee contained representatives from the Academy of Medical Sciences, Institute of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK National Committee for Microbiology and the ABPI. One of the objectives of the Associate Programme was to press the need for the country to develop expertise in biomedical informatics. The Programme organised a symposium in 2000 in which the leading players in the current BioBank large-scale population genetics study participated (Wellcome Trust, National Health Service, MRC). A second objective was to promote the need for a new programme of cross-disciplinary PhD studentships in biology and chemistry. UKLSC collaborated with the Royal Society of Chemistry to run a symposium 'Post Genomic Partnership for Chemistry and Biology' to highlight this theme in 2001. The EPSRC has introduced a new cross-disciplinary scheme that goes some way towards meeting the Associate Programme objective.

  7.  UKLSC is part of an informal discussion group of science policy managers that also includes the Royal Society of Chemistry, Institute of Biology, Institute of Physics and the Royal Society. Policy activities are co-ordinated and shared as far as possible. This helps science to speak with a single voice on issues that affect the whole scientific community, and avoid duplication of activities.

  8.  In submissions to the OST on obtaining and using scientific advice across government departments UKLSC has repeatedly said that it would be very happy to act as a source of advice and information. But it has not been approached, despite having among its members the leading UK learned societies in the fields of microbiology, nutrition, genetics, endocrinology, immunology and cell biology, which in turn have many of the country's most eminent molecular and physiological life scientists among their memberships.

  9.  UKLSC produces a monthly report on national and international science and education policy, gleaned from newspapers and science journals. The report is distributed on-line to the Heads of all UK University Biological Sciences Departments and to others with an interest in science policy. It has a large and appreciative readership.

Animal science and welfare

  10.  The UKLSC Animal Science Group (ASG) represents all major learned societies associated with biological and biomedical research. It is concerned with all aspects of the use of animals in fundamental research in the UK and aims to:

    —  Support and promote UK science and facilitate animal welfare and implementation of the 3Rs;

    —  Maintain close dialogue between scientists and groups interested in the use of animals in research including government, policy makers, the media and the commercial sector;

    —  Improve public understanding, awareness and education about the use of animals in research.

  In order to maximise its effectiveness it invites a number of non-UKLSC organisations with overlapping interests to attend its committee meetings as full members or as observers, and actively seeks collaboration with them. Organisations currently attending in the latter category include the Academy of Medical Sciences, ABPI, Association of Medical Research Charities, BioIndustries Association, BBSRC, Institute of Animal Technicians, Laboratory Animals Science Association, Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association, MRC, Research Defence Society, Royal Society, and the Wellcome Trust.

  11.  The ASG functions both responsively and pro-actively. For example:

    —  the ASG caused a stir in 2000 by organising an open letter to the Science Minister signed by 110 leading biomedical professors. The letter drew attention to the effect on UK competitiveness of excessive bureaucracy and delay in the processing of animal licence applications by the Home Office. This led to a review of the system;

    —  in 2001 it submitted responses to the Lords Select Committee inquiry into the use of animals in scientific research and the Home Office Animal Procedures Committee inquiry into the cost benefit analysis included in Animal Licence applications. The Chair of the ASG was invited to present evidence orally to the Lords Committee. In 2002 the ASG made a submission focusing on undue bureaucracy in animal experimentation to the Better Regulation Task Force review of regulation in Science and Innovation;

    —  in 2001 the Chair of the ASG took part in an interesting public conference session entitled "Of Mice and Men" held at the British Association Festival of Science meeting;

    —  as one of its ongoing projects the ASG is conducting regular surveys among academic and research institute laboratories to learn whether recent changes introduced by the Home Office are being successful in shortening the turn-round time for Animal Licence applications. If not the ASG will go back to the Home Office with further recommendations on best practice.

  The ASG is in continual dialogue with the Home Office with the aim of using the considerable expertise on which it can draw to help the Office fulfil its statutory obligations in this area. The Home Office Minister with responsibility for animal welfare accepted an invitation in 2001 to talk with representatives of UKLSC and to tour the animal facilities at a leading UK university. Representatives of the ASG were also invited to discussions with the Science Minister and others as part of the Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force.


  12.  Many issues around science education in schools, and the provision of careers advice, are generic in nature and UKLSC societies co-operate among themselves and with other lead bodies wherever possible. The larger UKLSC societies having education managers also produce education resources, and undertake initiatives (eg teachers workshops, schools lectures), in their own right or again in collaboration with bodies such as BBSRC , the Wellcome Trust or the ABPI. Most societies have teaching and learning articles on their web sites that are of interest to schools and the public.

  13.  The UKLSC Education Group collaborates with the Institute of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics in attending up to six schools careers fairs annually under the banner "Science Careers". The Education Group has recently produced an informative careers leaflet that describes the different disciplines in the life sciences, how to decide on a university course, the careers study can lead to, and where additional advice can be obtained.

  14.  As its contribution to Science Year the Education Group has invited members of individual societies to add their name to a new on-line database of scientists who are prepared to give talks in schools. More than 200 are listed on the web site for school teachers, with which UKLSC collaborates.

  15.  The UKLSC Education Group organises three annual careers conferences at venues around the country for final year undergraduate and postgraduate biological sciences students. Each conference is typically attended by more than 200 students.

  16.  The Education Group also concerns itself with education policy and curricula issues. For example, in 2001:

    —  it contributed to the UKLSC response to the Roberts Review consultation on factors affecting the recruitment and retention of scientists and engineers;

    —  it was represented at planning meetings organised by the DfES on a new National Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching, and the Science Ambassadors scheme;

    —  it provided informed comment on the content of the new Salters/Nuffield A-level biology syllabus;

    —  it was a leading player in bringing together the team that produced the Biosciences benchmark for the Quality Assurance Agency;

    —  it collaborated closely with the Learning and Teaching Support Network group for the biosciences.

Science Communication

  17.  UKLSC considers this a crowded arena, and focuses its efforts on collaborating with and supporting other active agencies. The Education Group organised the database of scientists prepared to visit schools, which is on-line and freely available, and provides input to curriculum discussions aimed at making science interesting for all students. Through its collaboration with the Learning and Teaching Support Network it supports the training of graduates equipped with the transferable skills necessary to communicate with the public. The Animal Science Group has improving public understanding, awareness and education about the use of animals in research as a key element of its remit.

  18.  Individual UKLSC societies are more involved in organising activities involving the public and the media. Several of these have submitted separate memoranda to this inquiry which should be consulted for more detailed information. Examples of the activities of individual societies include:

    —  in 2001 UKLSC provided financial support for the Genetics Society and the University of Leeds to produce a video 'Genetic Engineering—Dreams and Nightmares' to explain the science and explore societal and ethical issues with GCSE science students;

    —  several societies write media releases on interesting topics ahead of their scientific meetings. This often results in radio interviews and articles in the national newspapers and more specialised journals such as New Scientist;

    —  some societies support sessions at the British Association Festival of Science, which is attended by science journalists. Through media releases and the science sessions themselves science stories are shared with the media throughout the week;

    —  several societies organise conferences and workshops on issues relating to science communication (eg on nutrition, genetic modification, biodiversity, women in science).


  The Royal Society is the flagship of British Science, which is recognised and respected internationally. It serves many important purposes. Amongst these the funding of research fellowships is worthy of particular note. The success of these has been outstanding, and the forthcoming report of the Roberts Review will recommend an expansion of such fellowships. The Royal Society was one of the first funding bodies to provide fellowships aimed specifically at helping women to balance research careers with family commitments.

  Overall, the UK Life Sciences Committee fully supports the activities of the Royal Society and considers that it serves an essential function in UK science

April 2002

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