Memoranda submitted by Professor D H Saxon,
FRSE, Head of Department of Physics and Astronomy, University
This is a personal submission indicating some
areas of concern. As requested I give first some information on
my involvement in Research Council Matters:
PPARC Council member (since 1997), Chair
Public Understanding of Science Panel. (since 1997). (1992-95
covering transition from SERC) I was Chairman of the Particle
Physics Committee and member of the UK delegation to CERN Council.
CCLRC Chair the Particle Physics Users Advisory
Committee (since 1998).
MRC Member of the Scientific Advisory Group
on Technology (1999). Judge for Discipline-hopping awards (2000).
CERN, Geneva Member ad personam of
Scientific Policy Committee (1993-98).
DESY, Hamburg Member, Physics Research Committee
Roy Soc Ed Chair of Physics Sectional Committee
and member of Meetings Committee. Chair sub-committee for PPARC-RSE
Inst of Physics Member of Degree accreditation
The comments relate to my own experience. There
are many good things to say, for example, the limited remit of
PPARC has given it excellent focus. Here are some less good things.
1. The White Paper seemed to assume that
Research was in good health and this will continue without long-term
attention to human resources, infrastructure and facilities. The
emphasis was on reorientation of goals and little thought was
given to the measures needed to sustain quality of performance.
2. The White Paper failed totally on the
issue of the managing, development and renewal of central facilities.
As a result CCLRC had later to be set up, but under an underfunded
and flawed scheme, (happily now being reviewed). There is no systematic
approach to new capital facilities. There have been extreme difficulties
throughout in approving and now in setting up the management for
the new synchrotron radiation source. As a result the UK has (a)
suffered loss of expertise in managing capital projects; (b) given
itself no bargaining position in international negotiations; (c)
failed properly to exploit those facilities we do have. The EPSRC
ticket scheme has proved to be an inappropriate way to provide
tensioning between big and small science. It has led to expensive
facilities being underused, a high rejection rate on proposals,
and would-be users being demoralised.
3. It failed to provide enough resourcing
for infrastructure and capital, with an over-emphasis on short-term
wins. The Research Councils and Funding Councils together have
failed to deliver enough resource for University research infrastructure.
There has been a progressive decline. The JIF mechanism has been
a sparsely effective response with an emphasis on flagship projects
rather than maintaining quality across the patch. It is highly
inefficient with only a 12 per cent success rate, and extraordinarily
burdensome to apply for and then to administer. It has hugely
complex rules that pull in different directions.
4. It has not addressed the distortion caused
by charities not paying indirect costs. This lack of transparency
has forced Universities to divert resources out of, say, physical
sciences into biomedical to make good the shortfalls and infrastructure
costs needed to support charity-funded work.
5. It has neglected the future of human
resources by failing to maintain competitive salaries for academics
and postgraduate students. The position for students entering
Ph Ds is now dire. They come in with massive debts and face several
years of hand to mouth funding for the prospects of £18,000
at age 27 with a Ph D, as against £20,000 being offered to
21 year old B Sc's in the same field. The EPRSC proposal for training
accounts will reduce student numbers, create destructive competition
between institutes, and force Universities into seeking top-up
funding from other sources to avoid slipping back, instead of
getting on with the job.
6. On Public Understanding of Science there
is good and bad to report. At the level of contact between enthusiastic
researchers and young people there is much that is good. But there
are three big problems (a) the very low level of public awareness
on science content. Schemes from abroad have to be dumbed down
for UK consumption. (b) The media give prominence to American
scientists even where the work was done in the UKpartly
from the need to sell programmes in the USA whereas the UK is
a captive market, and partly from a larger supply and a greater
degree of fluency amongst American scientists. This does not provide
role models for British children. (c) Scientists and the media
have failed to understand each other repeatedly. Progressively,
important fields of, for example, environmental discussion have
become politicised and discussion reduced to sloganising by pressure
groups who are indifferent to whether their arguments are true
or not. Consider nuclear power, dumping old oil rigs, or genetically
22 May 2000