Examination of Witnesses (Questions 246-303)|
24 FEBRUARY 2010
Q246 Chairman: Could I welcome our two
witnesses, Lord Drayson, the Minister for Science and Innovation,
and David Lammy, the Minister of State for Higher Education and
Intellectual Property. Welcome to you both, gentlemen. This is
an evidence session on the inquiry into the impact of spending
cuts on science and scientific research, and could I emphasise
that that is our clear emphasis rather than the whole of higher
education, David. We are particularly interested in what is happening
to science. Lord Drayson, in your lecture at St Catherine's College,
you laid out five major points about the importance of science,
particularly in terms of its underpinning the economy as we move
forward out of recession, in your speech on 11 February, and you
said specifically that "continued investment and a stable
framework so that scientists are able to get on with what they
do best" was absolutely at the heart of that agenda, and
yet we have heard from scientists, certainly last week, and, indeed,
from vice chancellors that they are very worried that beyond 2010-11
there is huge uncertainty about where we are going in terms of
spending on science. What comfort can you give them?
Lord Drayson: Firstly,
I can say that I recognise that that uncertainty is real. I think
it reflects the sense that the whole nation feels that we have
been through, and are still going through, very tough economic
conditions. We are now starting to see a recovery, but that recovery
is fragile. This presents the Government with a central challenge,
and that challenge is how it can implement policies to reduce
the debt burden as we go forward in a way which does not upset
the important drive we have to achieve towards growth. Science
is absolutely central to the delivery of the achievement of that
growth, and so, as we move forward in putting in place the policy
responses to that challenge, what we have to do is get that balance
right. What we can point to is, firstly, our track record; that
this is a government which has fundamentally understood the central
importance of science, it has invested in science, but I understand
that there is concern and uncertainty. What I can reiterate is
my very strong belief, both as Science Minister and as a member
of the Government, that it is science and investment in science
and innovation which is at the heart of the answer, and so, therefore,
that maintenance of investment is going to be key. In the speech
that I gave at St Catherine's, what I was aiming to do was to
highlight what I saw as two sides to the argument, making the
point that, of course, we have to maintain investment in fundamental
scientific research. I believe that our track record there, the
evidence shows, is excellent, but alongside that what we also
have to do is improve our success in seeing the translation of
that scientific excellence from pure research through to commercial
application to drive jobs and growth. The future for the scientific
community is one whereby the nuancing of that balance has got
to be got right, and what we have to do is bring the scientific
community with us as we discuss the measures which will achieve
this. I am sure we will get on to talking about such aspects of
impact in terms of making decisions involving research and research
grants, but I think these are very important arguments which lie
at the heart of getting the balance right between maintaining
the drive towards reduction in debt whilst ensuring growth.
Q247 Chairman: One of the areas that
we are struggling with as a Committee, and it came out in a couple
of the sessions we have had already, is this report by the Institute
of Fiscal Studies which has basically said that if you are going
to ring-fence schools and you are going to ring-fence health,
then you end up with probably a 10.9-11% reduction elsewhere in
terms of spending. There is a concern about how on earth you can
maintain the science ring-fence, given that sort of pressure,
having said we will protect things in terms of health and education,
and yet the very thing which you and your colleagues say will
drive our economic growth and take us out of recession are the
things that we are not going to protect. How do you protect that
against a 10.9% reduction?
Lord Drayson: Firstly, we are
committed to maintaining the science ring-fence; we are committed
to maintaining our trajectory on the 10-year framework. What matters
is what is inside that science ring-fence in the next spending
review. The answer to your question, Chairman, is that, along
with my colleagues, I have to make very strong arguments to Treasury
and other colleagues as to why investment in science and innovation
is key to the answer to driving growth. Of course, that is going
to be a discussion which takes place within the decisions that
are taken by the Treasury in terms of the future spending round,
but I get the sense that there is an understanding of the central
importance right from the Prime Minister downwards. Just earlier
on in the week the Government hosted a conference for international
investors in the United Kingdom, and at that very conference the
Prime Minister, Peter Mandelson and other ministers emphasised
the strengths that Britain has in science and innovation and made
the clear link between investment in science and innovation, the
attractiveness of the UK as a place for investment, future UK
competitiveness and how competitiveness was a key component of
achieving growth. It is a tough argument that has to be made and
that argument has to be won.
Q248 Chairman: It is a popular thing
to say that we are going to protect particular areas, but there
is clearly a knock-on effect elsewhere. What we did not get from
any of the vice chancellors or, indeed, their organisations was
any sense of protecting science within the budgets which they
allocate through HEFCE, through the dual support system. Indeed,
Minister, you do not seem to have made any real statement to say,
"I want to see science protected in our universities even
if it means something else has got to go." Is that fair?
Mr Lammy: I do not think that
is fair actually. I think the essential statement of government
intent in relation to higher education is contained in Higher
Ambitions which we published in the autumn. It was a long
and extensive consultation that was begun under John Denham. We
asked the sector to play a role in setting out the next 10-year
vision for the sector, and on page 55 we said, "Investment
in science and innovation is not an intellectual luxury for a
developed country; it is an economic and social necessity and
an indispensable ingredient of economic success." There is
no equivocation there.
Q249 Chairman: No, it is translating
those words into some action. That is the key.
Mr Lammy: Absolutely. At a time
where there is belt tightening I would say to the sector, look,
obviously there is a political context to this discussion and
the political context is, I think, that there are some vice chancellors
looking a bit too closely at the pollsperhaps not the recent
onesand anticipating other governments that might do other
things and sending out very strong signals about the importance
of higher education, but even if you look at the savings that
we asked the sector to make in the grant letter that we issued
shortly before Christmas, it is clear that HEFCE have sought to
minimise the effect on science and research and indeed on teaching,
and the lion's share of those savings fall, in fact, on capital.
I think our commitment both to the ring-fence, to the 10-year
framework, reiterated again in Higher Ambitions, is absolutely
Q250 Dr Iddon: David, I have been
through a period of retraction in the universities as a chemist
and I know, because I saw it happening all over the country, admittedly
under a previous administration, that when vice chancellors have
to save a considerable amount of money on their budgets, the non-classroom
subjects in engineering and science suffer the most because those
subjects are the most costly to run. The evidence is being seen
all over the country at the moment. Leeds is a typical example,
where the Chairman of the Russell Group is making quite savage
cuts, for example, in the biological sciences department, but
that is just one example of many that I could quote around the
country. It worries me that science is not being protected in
the universities for those reasons. Does it worry you?
Mr Lammy: I think we have to distinguish
between two things, and one of the things that bears on that is
autonomy. In the end the Government sets the overall framework,
and that is an overall framework in which we have specifically
asked HEFCE to do two things, which they are currently doing.
They have a pot of money, around about £10 million, to help
institutions move from other subjects to STEM areas in this next
financial year. So we have a contestable fund, which we also indicated
in Higher Ambitions, again encouraging institutions to
support STEM. It is not for me to comment on individual institutions,
but you will be aware that vice chancellors are also making strategic
decisions based on RAE determinationsthose, in some senses,
predate this next spending cycleand they are making decisions
in relation to where they want to focus their institutions. Let
us not conflate decisions that would have been made about particular
subjects and institutions that vice chancellors and management
teams have to stand behind within this next period. Yes, it is
belt tightening, but we are asking the sector do it in a way that
minimises the impact on science and research and on teaching.
Q251 Dr Harris: You mentioned HEFCE
was directing universities to concentrate on capital cuts. What
do you think is more capital intensive: scientific facilities
or English language or humanities facilities?
Mr Lammy: I do not really like
the either/or that you are posing there, Evan.
Q252 Dr Harris: Let me put it another
way then. Which costs more to set up: a science facility or a
Mr Lammy: Clearly a science facility
Q253 Dr Harris: Do you think the
capital cuts might fall more on science facilities than humanities
Mr Lammy: I think the context
is not a year-zero moment, is it? We have invested round about
£6.4 billion in capital in the last 10 years. This year we
have a capital budget of over £400 million. We have brought
forward £250 million from last year as a fiscal stimulus.
On any account, when you compare that, say, with the upstream
pipeline and the capital budget of zero in FE when we came to
power and, I think, roundabout £75 million in HE, we are
building on 10 years of serious commitment to capital.
Q254 Dr Harris: I do not dispute
that. I know you start from a much better base than in 1997 in
terms of capital investmentI accept thatbut going
forward I was just trying to establish the question
Mr Lammy: It is a different paradigm.
Q255 Dr Harris: is it reasonable
to say that because you are cutting capital that protects science,
from whatever the base (and I accept it is a high base compared
to 1997: I just want to make that clear) but I just want to ask
you whether you would reflect on whether to say "it is not
science, it is capital" is really logical?
Mr Lammy: No, I think it is reasonable
to say that. It is reasonable to say that on the basis of two
things: (1) on the basis of 10 years of serious investment in
capital and (2) on the basis of the £23 billion income in
higher education, £15 billion of that being overall spend
from a government or related institution, but the sector has been
able to lever in beyond that an extra £7 billion and, of
course, let us be clear, universities are also in arrangements
with banks and other things to ensure that they can take forward
Q256 Dr Harris: I am asking you about
the future and you are referring to the past. It is a good record
on capital, but let us look at this ring-fence question. Lord
Drayson, you said that you are committed to the science ring-fence.
I want to ask you two questions: one about what that means in
terms of years and, second, what that actually means in terms
of what the ring-fence is. First, in terms of years, are you saying
that you are committed to what is planned to be in that ring-fenced
budget in years 2011-12 and 2012-13, or are you saying you are
only giving a commitment to retain what is planned to be in that
Lord Drayson: Yes. I think there
are two important aspects of the ring-fence. Firstly, what I am
saying is that we are committed to the principle of the ring-fence
in having a definition of a pot of money which is specifically
protected from being spent on other areas as a long-term principle
beyond the current spending round. It will not be determined until
we get to the budget decision on the future CSR three-year period
how much money is in that ring-fence, but I think it is important
for the scientific community to recognise that the principle of
a ring-fence, independent of how much money is in it, is very
important. There has only been one occasionI think it was
in 2007where money was taken from within the science ring-fence
and spent on something outside of the science definition. In addition,
it is important that we maintain our commitment to the current
CSR and then we argue for the future under CSR of maintaining
the investment on the science budget at the current levels going
forward. That is an argument to be made and won.
Q257 Dr Harris: I think I understand
you. The principle is that once the money is allocated for that
year, it cannot be raided like it was in 2007?
Lord Drayson: Exactly.
Q258 Dr Harris: If something is not
currently bought by ring-fenced money and then you put that cost
pressure into that budget, you apply that budget to that cost
pressure currently outside, is that not equivalent to taking money
out of the ring-fence to purchase the thing that was currently
purchased outside the ring-fence, and do you know of any examples
where that has been done recently?
Lord Drayson: I think it would,
in effect, lead to the same cause. I am very focused, as is John
Beddington, on monitoring what is in ring-fences, what is on the
shopping list, so to speak, and I think I know where you are going
Dr Harris: I do not want to spring it
on you now, but perhaps you might want to write to us in advance
of it being sprung to see if you can find any examples of that
that will put you on the front foot.
Q259 Chairman: You are obviously
aware of it.
Lord Drayson: I am very aware
of it, and further investigations are taking place.
Q260 Dr Harris: Let us see if you
tell us before I tell you. One last question for the Higher Education
Minister. The £600 million planned future cuts are set to
be decided after the Browne Review reports. Can you give an assuranceand
I know this is hypothetical but I think it is a reasonable questionthat
if the Browne Review recommends, as it may well do, an increase
in the fee that students have to pay, which is money from inside,
some of that income will not be lost, effectively, by a withdrawal
of government funding, not necessarily on a like-for-like basis,
but some of that, because that would not all be new income then
to universities? That is what is seen to be implied by linking
the £600 million planned cuts to a Browne Review on whether
students will pay, through increased debt, higher tuition fees?
Mr Lammy: I think the £600
million looks across the whole terrain in relation to higher education,
funding, research, science. Obviously, it is an independent review.
I cannot anticipate what will come out of it and, therefore, it
is very difficult to get into hypotheticals.
Q261 Dr Harris: But if it suggests
raising £600 million more from students through higher fees,
which is at least a possibility because it is in the terms of
reference, would you accept that that fee income would not be
extra income to universities because of the £600 planned
cuts? In that circumstance, and it is not a difficult sum, I think,
you could say that there is no net increase of funding to universities
because what students are giving essentially with one hand is
being taken way through these savings by the other. Would you
accept that mathematic?
Mr Lammy: I understand where you
are trying to direct me. I am indicating extreme reluctance to
get into hypotheticals.
Q262 Dr Harris: Is that really hypothetical?
Mr Lammy: It is, yes.
Chairman: I think we have understood
the question and we have had a response.
Q263 Graham Stringer: Can I go back
to one question, David? You were saying in answer to whether you
could really protect science in universities, universities have
autonomy, which they do. Is that not just a straightforward contradiction,
and is not the answer that while universities have autonomy you
cannot really protect science?
Mr Lammy: No, I think the Government
has to demonstrate leadership.
Q264 Graham Stringer: I do not want
to interrupt, but you said that there are good words in demonstrating
support for science; it is a good thing; we want it to be the
basis of the future of our economy. We all agree with that on
this Committee, but when it comes down to protecting science within
universities, while universities are rightly autonomous, is not
the answer that you cannot protect them?
Mr Lammy: Graham, I do not quite
think it is like that. I do think that we are, and HEFCE demonstrated
that we are, where we are asking for savings to be made, able
of course to look right across the area and minimise the impact.
For example, HEFCE have made a decision in this recent grant allocation
in relation to old and historic buildings. I am a former Heritage
minister. I happen to believe that heritage is hugely important,
but these are tough decisions, and that is precisely the sort
of decision that affects a certain group of universities. That
is not as a consequence an impact on science. That is the sort
of thing that the Government and the Funding Council can do, but,
you are right, universities are autonomous. Vice chancellors must
then make decisions about the focus of their institutions, understanding
that each institution has a different mission, and, also, they
must be able to make determinations, which ministers must not
be involved in, about the merits, quality and other assessments
about particular departments, and that is taking place at this
point in time.
Q265 Chairman: The short answer is
you cannot protect it because your priority is the autonomy of
universities and preserving that.
Mr Lammy: I do not think that
is quite how I have put it, no. I have said that we absolutely
can lead, we can invest, but then, ultimately, for individual
institutions, they must make a determination; but, of course,
when this Committee talks about science, we are talking about
the collective whole, so we are talking about the sum total of
institutions, we are talking about R&D and BIS, a whole range
of areas when we are talking about science. We are not talking
about what is happening in Leeds.
Q266 Chairman: I think there is a
huge frustration when yourself, the Minister, and, indeed, the
Secretary of State, constantly bang the drum about how important
science and innovation is to the future of our economy and yet
the area where you can make the greatest impact, which is in our
higher education system, you are basically saying, "No, no,
we cannot touch that. Ultimately it is the vice chancellors that
can make these decisions." That just seems to be incredulous
Mr Lammy: Can I come back? Let
us actually look at what is happening. PhDs in science are up;
student undergraduates are up in every area of science this year.
That is not a context in which we should be alarmist about the
prospects for science in our country, surely.
Q267 Graham Stringer: There are varying
achievements. Can I move on to the impact agenda, David? We have
had a lot of witnesses who are concerned both about the potential
retrospective assessment of impact, particularly HEFCE looking
at their Research Excellence Framework and saying that they will
try to assess the impact of previous research and weighting that
up to 25% in their assessment. Is this not really a false quantification?
We all know science impacts on society and it is by and large
a good thing, but to try to quantify it and use that as a basis
for assessing future research, is that not just false quantification?
Mr Lammy: I do not think that
researchers are being asked to predict their impacts in advance.
Q268 Graham Stringer: I am coming
on to predicting them in the future, because Professor Cox told
us they were and you did not know how to do it. I am going to
come on to that with Lord Drayson. The Research Excellence Framework:
HEFCE are looking, and they are not quite sure how to do it, at
assessing the impact of research up to 10, 15, 20 years ago. It
just seems a bit strange. I am not sure Max Planck could have
done it when he got to the basis of the quantum theory.
Mr Lammy: Let me tell you my view.
I am very clear doing this role that the public do not fully understand
the public impact of higher education in this country, and that
is indicated every time you see a reference to higher education
in a red-top newspaper and in quotation marks you see the word
"boffin". We need to do better. We need to convey a
much bigger national story about the importance of science and
research, about the innovation, say, in the swine vaccine that
Imperial were engaged in this year, the technology at Oxford Brookes
producing our Formula 1 winning team. We are not able to do that
and I think, therefore, that economic, social, public impact is
important. If you are hugely committed to the sector, as I am,
I actually think if we can get this right it will help alleviate
any future concern of withdrawing funds, or whatever. The determination
on the "how" must be for the academics themselves, and
it is a HEFCE consultation: they must determine the outcome, they
must determine the weighting, but the direction of travel is important,
to look back and make a determination about what impact particular
bits of publicly funded money has generated in our economy.
Q269 Graham Stringer: Can I ask the
question about the future to Lord Drayson? Research councils are
asking as part of their assessments of giving grants for scientists
to predict what impacts their research will have on research projects
of equal value in research terms. That could be a discerning factor.
Do you really believe it can be done? Professor Cox told us when
he was here that when he was asked to predict future impacts he
had absolutely no idea how to carry out that assessment?
Lord Drayson: Yes, I do, and I
am well aware of Brian Cox and others' views on this. I read with
interest the transcripts of this Committee's meetings where there
is a range of opinions within the scientific community upon this.
My sense is that actually the majority of the scientific community
do believe this is sensible, do believe that it can be done and
are willing to work with both HEFCE and the research councils
in the projects which they have to try and do this in an effective
way. I think we need to recognise these are pilots, for example,
that we are at the early stages of doing this, and so we are sensing
our way. There are some people who really do not believe that
it is possible for it to be done, and I respect their views. David
has already mentioned one reason why it is important to do it.
There are two others, I believe. One is making the case for continued
investment in science in more difficult economic times. That is
going to be the difference between making the case for the science
budget going forward and making the science budget case over the
past 10 years: it is much tougher economic circumstances. The
lack of data on impact which exists at the moment makes it more
difficult to make that case effectively within government. The
third reason why I believe it is important is that from my own
experience of doing research in my own PhD, my own experience
as a science entrepreneur, the conversations that I have had with
people on this subject, I get a sense there is a real value in
asking researchers to think about this issue, not expecting them
to implement the impact themselves, not asking all scientists
if their research leads to commercial impact for them to become
entrepreneursof course notbut making the point that
this is taxpayers' money; that, therefore, researchers should
expect to be part of a process which ensures that taxpayers' money
has the biggest impact that it possibly can have for the benefit
of the country, whether that is economic, or social, or what have
you. Therefore, I believe that these efforts are worthwhile. We
are at an early stage of trying to do it; I think we should carry
on with it.
Q270 Graham Stringer: Are we not
on dangerous ground here? I understand what you are saying. You
have to make your case within government for science and we are
in tough times and if you are arguing against health and saving
people's lives, or whatever, you have to make a case, but are
you not going to get into conflict with just pure curiosity-driven
research? When I think back to the classic cases in science, whether
it is Rutherford or Max Planck, people have made huge impacts
on society with the research that they did. I do not believe that
they could have answered these questions when they were doing
that research. Do you, and are you, in effect, moving away from
curiosity-driven research to applied research?
Lord Drayson: Absolutely not.
I think that if you read the biographies of those individuals
about what was going on at the time around their laboratories,
for example, you get the impression that there was no doubt at
the time that the work that they were doing was going to have
massive impact. Therefore, if they had been asked to give some
consideration to what the impact might be of their research, I
do not think they would have had much trouble in doing it.
Q271 Chairman: Not when they started
though. You are asking them to do this when they are starting
Lord Drayson: You are asking people
to give some consideration to this as part of the overall assessment
of a research project in the same way that we are starting to
ask them to take consideration of the communication of science.
This is another theme which we believe is important and which
we need to provide the incentives for people to do. We are not
saying that this is the main way that we are going to judge research.
In fact, in the case of the research councils, the idea of asking
for this consideration of impact is to enable the peer review
panels in a dead heat, a tie, between decisions, between grants,
where the overriding criterion for making that decision is research
excellence, and if they have come to the conclusion that those
grants are equivalent in terms of excellence that there is a further
differentiating factor which can be looked at. Sincerely, I really
believe with my 20 years' experience in science as a science entrepreneur
that this has value. I really do believe it can be done. You hesitate
to characterise a scientist in the company of the Maxwells and
Plancks and so forth, but, I think, if we look at it, there have
been enough really seriously eminent living scientists who have
said, "It is fair enough for us to be asked to do this; it
is early days; let's see", to suggest that this is worth
doing. I think that there the concern that I have said I recognise
is all to do with a general concern: is there a shift away from
pure towards applied? Absolutely not. What we need to do is make
sure we continue being excellent and pure, but we need to get
a bit better at the application of applied research, and so I
do not think that this impact agenda should be seen as a part
of any kind of intention by the Government to shift allocation
of research funding between that pure and applied spectrum, but
I do believe it has huge potential benefit and should be followed.
Q272 Dr Iddon: Lord Drayson, words
like "prioritisation" and phrases like "strategic
choices" are now being used more commonly in your speeches,
and I think David has used "prioritisation" as well.
In the Nairne Lecture the other day you stressed a focus on space,
the digital economy and life sciences. Does that mean there is
going to be a shift of money from other areas into those favoured
areas and, if so, who is going to make the choices about those
shifts of money and will it not damage some areas like particle
Lord Drayson: The fundamental
thinking behind all of this relates not just to scientific research
but it relates to the central question of the economic future
of Britain and the Government's plan to ensure that Britain has
a prosperous and successful future in the context of the difficult
economic circumstances in the near term but also very strong global
international competition, and that has been pursued through a
strategy, described as "industrial activism" by Peter
Mandelson, whereby the Government has worked to identify with
industry and the academic community those areas where Britain
has real clear strengths, where the markets in those areas are
growing strongly and where, therefore, if Britain invests in those
areas, both on the supply and the demand side, it is most likely
that Britain will succeed in generating future economic growth.
You mentioned space. Space is a classic example. It is as if the
recession did not happen in the space industry. It has been growing
at 9% a year for the last 10 years or so, it is projected to grow
at 5% a year globally for the next 20 years, an opportunity for
Britain to increase its global market share to 10%, create 100,000
new jobs, but to do that investment has to be made to maintain
the fundamental science, first of alljust the sort of things
that Professor Brian Cox would be keen onbut at the same
time to make sure that that is translated into success in the
economy, which means making sure of that translation of that science
into projects. The best example I would give of success in doing
this is Surrey Satellites. Out of one of our leading universities,
a world lead that we have now in small satellites, Surrey Satellites
just having won a major contract for the supply of the Galileo
System. 500 million, I think, is the number, half of which will
be coming to the UK, so there is a clear policy here. What that
means, though, is that both the academic community, industry and
government need to work together in the example of space, the
innovation and growth team, to come up with a plan and a plan
that the academic community supports. Therefore, it is the role
of the academic community, through peer review, through the research
councils, under the Haldane Principle, having been asked to think
by the Government of what these priorities should be, for them
to provide that advice. It is not for ministers to tell the scientific
community these are the areas, because it is for the scientific
community to come up with the conclusions.
Q273 Dr Iddon: I think all members
of this Committee would agree with what you have said, but if
we are going to put more emphasis on all of what you have said,
does that not mean that something down the line somewhere has
got to give, because it is a limited budget?
Lord Drayson: Absolutely; choices
have to be made
Q274 Dr Iddon: Is there not a danger
that some of our fundamental aspects of science are going to suffer?
I have mentioned particle physics; I could mention nuclear physics
as well. I was at Manchester a few days ago and the nuclear physicists,
at a time when we are developing the nuclear industry in this
country, are suffering quite badly across the country at the moment.
Lord Drayson: I believe there
are two dimensions of this. One is the dimension from pure fundamental
research to the most applied research, and then there is the dimension
of the field of research. What I have been talking about really
is the fields of research. What are those fields where Britain
has real critical mass, it has real leadership in, where the science
is moving at a pace which is part of a big shift which leads to
a big market opportunity? It is not a question of whether or not
you make a short-term or a long-term decision. Pure research,
by its nature, has a long-term impact, but it can be absolutely
fundamental to success in an area of real importance. I do not
make this link that some are making that if you are concerned
to ensure success in these areas of strategic importance that
that necessitates a shift from pure research to applied research:
you have to do both. I think we have got to improve our success
of translating our applied research to economic growth. We have
made a lot of progress but we need to go further.
Q275 Dr Iddon: Let me turn now, Lord
Drayson, to the STFC. Are you able to tell the Committee when
your work with Professor Sterling will be completed?
Lord Drayson: Very shortly. I
have received in the last few days proposals from Professor Sterling,
as a result of the work that he has done with the Research Council
in response to my asking for this review. I am now reflecting
on the proposals that he has given, talking to colleagues across
government, and will be making a decision very shortly.
Q276 Dr Iddon: There is a feeling
in the community represented by STFC that when CCLRC and PPARC
came together that that was probably a mistake. Is it possible
that there might be some more restructuring of the STFC?
Lord Drayson: I recognise that
the creation of STFC has led to a situation where, because of
the very nature of STFC as a research council which has a larger
proportion of its funding being spent on large international facilities,
costed not in sterling, where Britain is an important but a minority
partner, the creation of this structure through the merger has
meant that pressures which are not within the control of the Research
Council, like exchange rate risk, changes that are decided by
the majority of other countries to increase costs, leads to pressure
on the grant-giving side of the Research Council. I have said
that I accept that that is a problem. The purpose of the review
is to come up with solutions to that problem. I am optimistic
we can come up with solutions to this.
Q277 Dr Iddon: The astronomy community
and the nuclear physics community, in particular, but others as
well, feel they have no clout within the STFC, they have no say
on the council of the STFC and they are now being marginalised.
We are talking about some pretty important areas of fundamental
research. Do you feel that we should in some way try to protect
those areas like nuclear physics and astronomy that are being
marginalised at the moment?
Lord Drayson: I hear what you
are saying about the concerns that that community has. There have
been a number of communications to me and to other ministerial
colleagues about the concerns within the STFC community and we
are listening to those very carefully. As part of the review we
are not just looking at the structural elements of the organisation
of STFC but we are listening to the community. I can say that
I absolutely recognise the fundamental importance and excitement
in those areas. I have a child who is particularly keen on astronomy,
and so I am well aware of the importance of astronomy, not just
in terms of the answers it gives to some very fundamental questions
in science, but also its power in terms of enthusing and motivating
young people to study science.
Q278 Dr Harris: I wanted to ask the
Higher Education Minister what your view is of the health of physics
in higher education at the moment.
Mr Lammy: I obviously see it through
the lens particularly of entrants. I am pleased that we have seen
a 3% rise in students taking physics, which sits alongside the
increases in all the other STEM subjects.
Q279 Dr Harris: What is the baseline
for that rise?
Mr Lammy: It is a year-on-year
rise because of investment.
Q280 Dr Harris: So if there were
a 6% fall in a previous year, would that give you pause to say
that maybe picking your baseline to create the rise is not necessarily
the most statistically appropriate thing to do?
Mr Lammy: No, because this Committee
in previous incarnations would, quite rightly, have been concerned
about a fall of 19% in chemistry, a fall of 7% in maths and physics
struggling as well.
Q281 Dr Harris: Between when and
Mr Lammy: This is going back to
the 1999-2000 period. We are now seeing progress. We are also
seeing progress in Masters courses, which I think is very important,
and PhD levels. In terms of the appetite, partly because of the
capital conversation that we had previously, the investment in
facilities and a whole range of activity, that feels to me to
be a healthier environment.
Q282 Dr Harris: Do you think the
astronomy and particle physics community in higher education,
particularly those funded by STFC, are happy with their lot at
the moment, or do you think that it is fair to say that there
is a problem there, if not a crisis?
Mr Lammy: I recognise what Lord
Drayson has just said. I too see some of the concern that has
Q283 Dr Harris: Lord Drayson, in
respect of partnerships that we have in this area, for example
with Wellcome over the Diamond Light Source, do you think as a
matter of principle that if you do a partnership deal to create
a large capital facility, then it should be a first call on government
resources to live up to the obligations to then fund the recurrent
running costs of that facility, otherwise you are not maximising
your return on the investment and you also could be perceived
as letting down the people you entered into a partnership with
because you are pulling the plug on your share of the running
costs? Do you see that that is a reasonable thing to be a high
priority first call?
Lord Drayson: I do accept the
point that you are making that the partnership depends upon an
understanding of the principles by which the long-term nature
of funding decisions on those facilities would be made and, in
particular, not just the capital funding for the facility in the
first place, but the ongoing development work and the allocation
of funding to be able to ensure that those facilities are maximised.
I think your question referred to the difficulties that STFC has
faced with the pressure which is being caused, as I have already
said, and we do need to address that and we are looking at that
aspect in the review that we are taking. To actually commit today
to a prioritisation, I am not in position to do, but I accept
Q284 Dr Harris: My final question
is to ask whether you have any concerns, whether you have heard
of any concerns over the cost of setting up the shared services
centre by RCUK?
Lord Drayson: Yes, I have heard
about those concerns.
Q285 Dr Harris: What is your take
Lord Drayson: Like all aspects
of the administration of science, we need to be alive to making
sure that those are done as effectively and as efficiently as
possible, and I think that is one of the areas that we will need
to put increased attention into as we go forward.
Chairman: We will leave that hanging
in the air.
Q286 Mr Boswell: A quick question
to the Higher Education Minister. Given the pressures we know
there are across the higher education sector, some of which have
been announced and others of which are to follow, not specific
to STEM, and given also the acknowledged improvement or beginning
of an uptake in STEM enrolments, does the Minister have anything
to say about any anticipated safeguarding of STEM subjects and
whether he will be talking to the Browne Review? One has a suspicion
that Lord Browne may have an interest in STEM subjects as well.
Would he give us a take on whether, at the end of this process,
I think the welcome improvement which we have seen will be maintained
or will be reversed if not in absolute possibly in relative terms
Mr Lammy: We have already indicated
in Higher Ambitions and HEFCE already are implementing
a £10 million pot to ensure that universities are able, in
a sense, to safeguard and move to STEM to continue to see the
improvement that we have seen since the introduction of the framework,
and the figures that I gave previously are as a result, if you
like, of the introduction of the framework. We are already saying
to the sector that we are making some funds contestable to also
see a shift to the New Industries, the New Jobs agenda, and STEM
obviously lies behind that. Of course, the review is independent
of government and we will reflect on it as it comes to us, but
I know and would expect that certainly our more research-intensive
universities will have made the case that you are outlining.
Q287 Mr Boswell: Beyond that, in
relation to graduates and career entrants into STEM subjects,
will the Minister also be taking a lively interest in the fact
that this is not simply a matter of undergraduate recruitment,
but it is a need to get people trained to be the scientists of
Mr Lammy: I think that is a very
good point. We have seen a huge increase at Masters level. We
must ensure that we are seeing a good proportion of UK postgraduate
students. I think Adrian Smith's postgraduate review is very,
very important in relation to this and, clearly, we have to build
on what the CBI outlined at the end of last year. We do need to
see more sandwich courses in the sector, we do need to see continued
increases in employer co-funding, and I think the whole sector
understands that the proximity to industry and the commercialisation
of science must be the key to growth in the sector.
Q288 Ian Stewart: Paul, can it be
taken from your answers this morning that you are comfortable
with these cuts and comfortable with the consequences that they
will bring about?
Lord Drayson: No, I would not
say that as Science Minister I am comfortable; quite the opposite.
My role is to argue very strongly for investment in science. I
think that we have to be very clear that the £600 million
that has been looked at as an efficiency saving is off a figure
which has not been determined yet, and so, therefore, my lack
of comfort is due to the fact that I am arguing very strongly
for the figure for the overall future research budget. I think
it is important to be absolutely clear on that. The PBR figure,
the £600 million efficiency saving in 2012-13people
talk about a percentage. You cannot calculate a percentage because
you do not know what the CSR numbers are yet. The argument is
still to be made and won.
Q289 Ian Stewart: The motive for
the question was to seek what you have just said, because I have
also had difficulty trying to work it out. David, higher education,
of which our Chairman is a great advocate, has received massive
investment since 1997. Can you say whether these cuts will undo
that good work? Will it, for example, force some universities
to decrease their UK recruitment for indigenous students and perhaps
go for more students from overseas? Will they damage the good
Mr Lammy: I think we have got
to put this in perspective. We saw a decline in the unit of resource,
Ian, as you will remember, on new UK figures of 40% between 1991
and 1997. What we are effectively talking about is a less than
5% saving, and within that 5% I think the real argument is about
how we minimise the effect on science and research, and I would
include teaching within that. That is the endeavour. I certainly
do not recognise some of the alarmist statements that have been
Q290 Ian Stewart: Do you not accept
that some of the more far-reaching statements that may be made
are born out of complete uncertainty, not about the current proposals,
but whether there may be further cuts to come after the General
Mr Lammy: Yes, as I indicated
earlier, I think that there are some vice chancellors who are
clearly very worried about the prospect of a Conservative administration
and there are other vice chancellors, very, very unusually, confusing
their understanding of ancient history, because I did not quite
understand the 800 years statement that had been made.
Q291 Ian Stewart: Can I move to the
more positive side? Some of our witnesses have asked for help
from government. For example, a number of them have said it would
be really good if the Government could do something about VAT.
Have you articulated that to the Treasury and what progress has
been made if you have articulated it?
Mr Lammy: That point has been
made. We are looking at it, but I think it is right to say that
there is quite a lot that can be done in terms of shared back-office
operations and we need to encourage the sector to make those advances
because some of the impediment looks to be in competition actually
and I want to indicate that where the last 10 years have been
very competitive, this next period has to be collaborative. You
will understand, Ian, that we are obviously discussing these things
within the Treasury. Progress is usually determined by a Budget.
Q292 Ian Stewart: Do we know if it
will be in the Budget?
Mr Lammy: I cannot anticipate
what the Budget might be.
Q293 Ian Stewart: Can I move to my
final point? We know, in line with what Paul Drayson said and
what you have said, David, as Higher Education Minister, that
hard decisions need to be made, but in an attempt to move things
forward positively you have implemented the 10,000 additional
student initiative and one of our witnesses, Professor Adrian
Smith, has said that this was a fairly hastily contrived move
and we thought that was an interesting statement, to say the least.
Can you tell us about where the idea came from and what consultation
you undertook before announcing it, and is Adrian Smith correct?
Mr Lammy: I think all of last
year you will have seen a particular group of universities particularly
(and I know that you have had Les Ebdon before you and he described
the move as tremendous) generating quite a lot of noise in the
system last year, asking for extra places, so I think there was
quite a long process by which government was able to hear and
listen, to look at a pattern of figures. We were in the height
of the recession and we sought to ameliorate that with just the
Q294 Ian Stewart: David, can I interrupt
there. Professor Ebdon, in the balance, also called the actions
on student support money a "betrayal". It appears to
me, hearing the different statements from witnesses, including
yourself, that there is a sweet and sour situation here. How is
the university sector going to get any stability for planning,
which is the key issue for the future?
Mr Lammy: If you look at successive
years, actually there has always been unfunded growth in and around
the system. There was the year before this one and before that.
Q295 Chairman: 10,000 places.
Mr Lammy: It may not have been
as much as that but we were in the height of the recession last
year. We had a decision to make, we made it and I think it is
a good thing that those young people are effectively in universities
in new areas of the economy.
Q296 Ian Stewart: What will happen
if universities have to say to applicant students, "No, there
is no place for you"? Is that not contradictory to what all
the Government strategy has been?
Mr Lammy: There will be more young
people at university next year than ever before in our history.
University is a competitive process. It has never been the case
in this country or any other country that everyone who wanted
to go in their first-try application went, and that will be the
same this year, as it has been in all of our history.
Q297 Ian Stewart: Is that growth
sustainable in the light of these cuts?
Mr Lammy: Absolutely. It has to
be managed growth, and that is what we are indicating. For every
place around 40% of students are in receipt of some grant; so
it is managed growth. We have always been clear about that.
Chairman: You have taken 10,000 places
out this year. You put them in last year and you have taken them
out this year. That is not managed growth.
Q298 Dr Harris: That is negative
Mr Lammy: When I talk about managed
growth, I talk about the costs associated with each student place.
We made a determination in the height of the recession last year.
I think it was the right determination. We will still see growth
this year but, of course, it is not the growth that we would have
anticipated before we came into this difficult period.
Q299 Dr Naysmith: Lord Drayson, Professor
Brian Cox told the Committee that "it is accepted clearly
in the Obama administration that the way to do it"and
this is the sort of thing we have been talking about this morning"is
to expand the frontiers of human knowledge and thereby we derive
the benefits". You yourself said earlier this morning that
investment is key to driving growth. At the bottom of all we have
been talking about this morning there is a clear strategic choice:
do we as a country increase investment in science, and that is
the punch line, or do we try and squeeze a few more drops out
of what we have got and hope for the best?
Lord Drayson: I think that the
Obama administration has truly followed what this administration
has been doing for a number of years. If you look at the previous
administration, the Bush administration certainly did not see
science in the centre of its policy. So there has been a transformation,
Professor Cox is absolutely right, in the United States that is
hugely welcome, but here in the United Kingdom, under both Prime
Minister Blair and Prime Minister Brown, there has been a sustained
focus, a transformation in science. That is something which should
be maintained. In good times or bad this country's future depends
upon it being a science leader. Our health, our wealth and our
prosperity depends upon us making the best use of this leadership
which we have in science. It is astonishing, I think. We are the
most productive nation in science in the G8. We have more Nobel
Prize winners than any other country apart from the United States,
and so we have something very special that takes place here in
the United Kingdom. That has been hard fought after a really quite
shocking underinvestment by the previous Conservative administration.
That has been put right now. We need to maintain that in the future.
Q300 Dr Naysmith: Are there going
to be cuts or not? Are there going to be serious cuts that will
affect science funding?
Lord Drayson: What I can say to
the Committee is that I am arguing very strongly for the investment
in science and innovation, but I can also point to public comments
that have been made by the Prime Minister and that have been made
by Peter Mandelson many, many times over the past 18 months.
Q301 Dr Naysmith: You said that earlier
and you said that from the Prime Minister down everyone was persuaded
by the importance of science, yet you are still arguing for future
investment. Who you are arguing with?
Lord Drayson: The decisions have
yet to be made. We are waiting for decisions coming out of the
Budget to be made which will then affect future spending rounds.
That is the normal business of government.
Q302 Dr Naysmith: What kind of steps
are you taking to try and ensure that the rest of the Government
will agree with you and increase our investment in science?
Lord Drayson: Firstly, we are
showing that we are putting as much effort as possible into ensuring
the efficiency of everything we do. The point that you make about
the shared services problem is an example that we have to show
to Treasury and other colleagues that we are putting significant
effort into making sure that we are maximising the efficiency
of everything that we are doing in the areas for which we are
responsible. The fact that we are the most productive in the G8
shows that we are already doing something very special, but we
must not be complacent. Also we need to develop a public consensus
of the central importance of science to growth, about the importance
of scientific literacy generally but also making sure that the
talent which we have in this country is properly stretched, exploited
and its potential turned into economic jobs and growth. All of
these things we are doing and we can point to a pretty effective
track record. A number of people have said in some of the debates
which we have had, on which Evan has shared a platform, and the
Chairman is well aware of the fact, that in this run-up to an
Election science is central to what this nation is about and it
is being discussed in a way which it never has been before, so
truly in this Election we have achieved an important goal which
is to make science a central part of the choice that voters make.
Do you really believe that science is going to be central to this
country's growth? This Government has a clear strategy, a clear
plan for doing so. The Opposition have said there are going to
be very major cuts in science; I do not agree with that, I do
not believe there should be very major cuts in science.
Q303 Dr Harris: That is the official
Lord Drayson: The official Opposition
Ian Stewart: There only is one official
Chairman: On that very, very positive
note of agreement, could we thank you very much indeed, Lord Drayson
and David Lammy, for your time with us this morning.