Memorandum submitted by the Institution
of Chemical Engineers
The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)
is the leading UK body for the accreditation of chemical engineering
degree courses and the qualification of professional chemical
engineers. Current membership stands at 25,000 worldwide.
The IChemE has been closely involved with many
of the activities which arose from the publication of the 1993
White Paper. We have been particularly engaged in both Foresight
programmes, running an Associate programme in the current round,
and continue to work closely with OST, DTI and the Research Councils.
The comments in this memorandum are based on close association
with the subject matter.
1. Are we "Realising Our Potential"?
The extent to which the objectives have been
The primary engine of change in the White Paper
was the Foresight process. This has had some successes in bringing
industry, government and academe together to identify opportunity
and methodology. In the process sector, it engaged some of the
SMEs and two of the first round funded projects, CPACT and iAc,
continue to be successful.
The concept of industry led research funding
as a mechanism for achieving "the interchange of ideas, skills,
know-how and knowledge between the science and engineering base
and industry" followed the IMI model. The main difference
was the size of the programmes and the freedom to target areas
of technology rather than fairly narrow topics. The main problem
with the Foresight funding was that the £40 million of the
first round was reduced to a much smaller amount in the subsequent
Although this mechanism for achieving the objectives
could have been used to disburse much more funding, most money
still went through the traditional Research Council route. This
lack of commitment to the process means that in academe much of
the science base and some of the engineering base need only pay
lip service to the Foresight priorities to maintain their funding.
The industrial enthusiasm and funding for Foresight
was based on a feeling that industry could have a real impact
on the research agenda and create academic centres of excellence
in areas vital to the economy. The lack of follow-through in the
Foresight funding process will endanger this.
Another mechanism for change was the modification
of the Research Council structures and the various committees.
This has had less impact than would have been hoped and there
is little evidence of a common approach across the Research Councils.
We particularly note the impact on bio-chemical engineering across
the interface between the EPSRC and the BBSRC.
Another area that is still a problem is the
funding of interdisciplinary research. Before the rearrangement,
in the process sector, about 50 per cent of "engineering"
funds were used to support the underlying science base, mainly
chemistry, whilst virtually no "science" funds went
It was hoped that the move to more explicit
commitments to wealth creation, would force the science base to
fund more interdisciplinary research, but this does not appear
to have happened. This is not just conservatism or purist behaviour
by "science" referees. There is a strongly held belief
that the RAE will not value interdisciplinary research and that
it does not lead to advancement in an academic science career.
There is also a feeling that with too little funding available
from Research Councils, the science base would suffer if these
were further "diluted". There is clearly a need for
a strong science base, some of which is focused on "knowledge"
creation, but the balance is still not correct.
The key themes in the White Paper were "wealth
creation and the quality of life". The various changes were
designed to promote and enforce these themes. This has had some
success in the academic community but there are still many in
the science base who regard wealth creation as an infringement
on academic freedom.
2. Are the 1993 Objectives still appropriate?
Although the potential impact of globalisation
was evident at the time of the White Paper the pace of change,
which has been particularly acute in the industries served by
our members, might not have been apparent. Industrially funded
research in our industries is now a truly global activity and
unless research is world class it will not receive support. At
the same time we see other countries, the USA, Japan and Germany
for example, making huge investment in specific areas of leading
Whilst the main objectives of the original White
Paper are still appropriate, the pace of change which is so far
evident does not provide any confidence that the science, engineering,
and technology base in the UK can meet these global challenges.
The key question is can the pluralistic approach to research funding
promote the growth in centres of excellence in leading edge technologies
required to compete in a globally competitive environment?
3. Culture Change?
There has undoubtedly been some change in culture
since the White Paper was published. Engineering research, which
is by nature often interdisciplinary, has become more respectable
in academic circles. There has also been a small but significant
increase in the willingness of the science base to collaborate
with engineering on particular projects. Industry and particularly
SMEs have participated a little more, particularly in consortium
In spite of this, there is still a fundamental
difference in the mindset and approach of the average engineer
and the average scientist that makes the process very difficult.
Most engineers want to make things and create wealth and most
scientists want to discover things and create knowledge. That
is why they chose their disciplines. This makes the setting of
joint targets very difficult; engineers see scientists as narrow
and unworldly whilst scientists see engineers as unfocused and
money-driven. These attitudes have been largely uninfluenced by
the White Paper.
The recent discussions on Citation Indices and
their appropriateness for engineering research, demonstrates the
wide gap in aspirations.
4. Science and Innovation Strategy
We agree that the contents of the list cover
appropriate aims. However our concern is whether the UK can achieve
the pace of change required to maintain competitivity.
5. A Modern Strategy
A modern strategy for science and technology
should be based wholly on a Foresight process. This will inevitably
mean making some hard choices, which may be politically difficult.
There has always been reluctance in public life to be seen to
be "backing winners". The Foresight process offers a
mechanism for engaging all the relevant parts of society in the
There is a dichotomy in government funding of
academic research. On the one hand, there is a tendency continuously
to seek novel mechanisms and schemes to create a sense of movement
and purpose. On the other hand, there is a natural inertia, from
dealing with such diverse communities, which leads to a lack of
zero based funding decisions. This leads both to projects continuing
to receive funding, when they are in areas that are no longer
strategic priorities and to a lack of continuity of funding for
new projects in areas that are strategically important.
Some mechanisms, such as Faraday Partnerships,
do have a longer time horizon, but for many mechanisms the funding
ends after three years. A modern strategy would seek to identify
strategic goals in areas vital to the nation and develop an appropriate
funding mechanism to meet those goals.
A nation the size of the UK cannot be a world
leader in every area, but there will be areas of national excellence
to be maintained and built on. There will also be fundamental
technologies that any nation would need to keep abreast of to
survive in an increasingly complex world.
The Foresight process offers a national basis
for decision-making. The process is not limited to academic research.
It could identify educational needs in the population. It could
then provide a basis for allocation of funds to educational establishments
at all levels.