Memorandum submitted by The Royal Society
The statement of aims in the Government's "Science
and Innovation Strategy" consultation document is too narrowly
focused on certain aspects of the role of science in wealth creation,
and lacks the breadth of intentions required for a national science
In order to ensure and maintain the excellence
of the UK's Science
Base, a strong commitment to improving academic pay and conditions
and investing in infrastructure is required, ideally through a
plurality of funding sources.
It will be difficult to arrest and reverse the
damaging drop in expenditure on research and development by Government
Departments unless each Department regards support for a world
class Science Base to be part of its mission, and invests accordingly.
The most important asset and output of the Science
Base is skilful and knowledgeable people, and this must be made
clear in a national strategy for science.
The Government must recognise in a national
strategy for science that the aims of wealth creation and improving
quality of life are both vitally important.
A national strategy for science should include
as an aim the promotion of a dynamic interaction between scientists
and the rest of society.
The Royal Society welcomes the opportunity to
contribute to this inquiry. This submission has been prepared
by a working group chaired by Professor David Wallace CBE FRS
(Vice-Chancellor, Loughborough University) and consisting of Dr
Jonathan Blackburn (Dept of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge),
Professor Michael Brady FRS (Dept of Engineering Science, University
of Oxford), Professor Julia Higgins CBE FRS (Dept of Chemical
Engineering, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine),
Dr Steve Howdle (School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham),
The Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Dept of Space and Climate Physics,
University College London), Sir John Kingman FRS (Vice-Chancellor,
University of Bristol), Professor Anthony Ledwith CBE FRS (President,
Royal Society of Chemistry), Sir John Skehel FRS (National Institute
for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London), and Dr Michael Stowell
FRS (Dept of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge),
with support from Dr Mark Scott (Royal Society), Mr Bob Ward (Royal
Society) and Ms Kirsty Brown (Royal Society). The submission has
been endorsed by the Council of the Royal Society.
Although the Committee has identified a number
of questions to which it is seeking answers, this submission focuses
on two questions:
Do you agree that the aims listed
in the Government's recent consultation document on "Science
and Innovation Strategy" are appropriate for a national strategy
What do you believe should be the
main features of a modern strategy for science, engineering and
technology, and why?
We note the following statement from the "Science
and Innovation Strategy" document:
Innovation is the successful exploitation of
new ideas, products, materials, techniques and processes. It covers
new ways of performing old tasks, new ways of using old materials
and new working methods in long established businesses, in manufacturing
and services. Poor performance in innovation has long been a problem
in many parts of UK industry. The Government now plans to tackle
that problem through action to:
sustain the excellence of the
science and technology base;
encourage private investment
streamline knowledge transfer
schemes and focusing them on clear goals;
foster regional networks;
improve the flow of skilled scientists
and engineers to industry;
improve the ability of the science
base to play a role in the knowledge economy;
take advantage of the globalisation
of research; and
improve public confidence by
creating greater transparency in the regulation of science.
This statement lacks the breadth of intentions
that was encapsulated in the strategy outlined in paragraph 8.2
of Realising Our Potential. The new aims are too narrowly
focused on certain aspects of the role of science in wealth creation,
and neglects other important goals. We identify here some of the
most important omissions.
We welcome the stated commitment to ensuring
and maintaining the excellence of the UK's Science Base. But if
the Government is to translate its good intentions into real outcomes,
there are two issues that it must face.
It is our conviction that problems with pay
are arising in almost all grades within UK academia and that uncompetitive
salaries are making it more difficult for higher education institutions
(HEIs) to recruit and retain the best scientists. The HE sector
has achieved the substantial growth in student numbers during
the last decade through increased productivity: between 1989-90
and 1997-98 the unit funding per student declined in real terms
by 35 per cent. Despite these efficiency gains, staff salaries
have continued to decline against those of similar professional
groups. Under the current funding arrangements for the sector,
HEIs are now expected to make further efficiency gains of one
per cent each year, against inflation, with a larger gap against
national salary increases. These constraints make it difficult
for universities and colleges to tackle the problem of pay. Additional
funding will be required from public and other sources to ensure
that HEIs can recruit and retain the right calibre of staff required
to preserve the UK's world class Science Base.
But competitive pay and conditions are not the
only factors required to attract the best scientists to the UK
Science Base. World class scientists require world class equipment
and facilities. Sadly, the infrastructure of the Science Base,
relative to the number of people it supports, has suffered a perilous
decline because of acute under-investment. The creation of the
Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) following the Comprehensive Spending
Review provided much needed funding to tackle the years of neglect
of laboratories and equipment. The injection of such sums of money
is very welcome, but their appearance after so many years of under-investment
has not been without cost. The percentage of applications to the
JIF which have been supported has been low, so that HEIs have
diverted significant resources towards the preparation of substantial
numbers of unsuccessful bids. In a number of cases, when a bid
has been successful, the award of funding has been made as partial
contribution towards a particular facility and without due regard
for the bidder's strategic priorities. Consequently some HEIs
have had to divert their hard-pressed financial resources towards
lower priority facilities in order to cover the shortfall from
the JIF awards.
The decline in the Science Base's infrastructure
has occurred over a long period, and can not be remedied overnight.
World class infrastructure requires substantial funds on a continuous
basis. A national strategy for science must include a long-term
plan for ensuring appropriate investment in infrastructure, and
we expect JIF to signal the beginning, not the end, of this process.
The strategy must consider where this investment is best directed.
For instance, in future JIF should be administered in a way that
recognises more explicitly the strategic objectives of individual
HEIs and an overall national strategy. And as the recent experience
of the process of site selection for the DIAMOND synchrotron source
has illustrated, the Government should also develop a clear strategy
for building and maintaining major facilities.
Given the difficulty of consistently selecting
good research and good researchers for funding, and the explicit
and implicit constraints imposed by the selection criteria for
any funding line, the Science Base is in principle strengthened
by having a plurality of funding sources, mechanisms and criteria.
Each funding source has its own set criteria. What is essential
for the overall health of the Science Base is that the various
funding sources reinforce each other. What has actually been happening
is that one source (the Funding Councils) provides the infrastructure
(meaning here salaries of core staff, buildings, routine consumables
etc rather the major items funded by JIF) and the others (Research
Councils, other streams of Government funding, sources from the
European Union, charities and industry) provide project funding;
but, over the years, project funding has greatly outgrown infrastructure
funding and the whole system is now under massive pressure as
a result. The balance between the various funding sources, and
the health of the system as a whole, need careful monitoring.
It may be that the traditional separation of infrastructure and
project funding needs to be reconsidered.
Other government departments do not regard support
for the Science Base as part of their missions. The sharp decline
in expenditure on research and development (R&D) by the civil
departments, excluding the Science Budget and funding through
the Higher Education Funding Councils, over the last 15 years
suggests that not all, if indeed any, departments now believe
that they should contribute to sustaining a world class Science
Base. R&D expenditure by the civil departments (excluding
the NHS) is projected to be 52 per cent lower, in real terms,
in 2001-02 than it was in 1986-87. Coupled with the drop in defence
R&D expenditure, this means that the proportion of UK R&D
funded by government has fallen from 35.4 per cent in 1988 to
30.8 per cent in 1997. This figure is lower than for any other
G7 country except Japan (and there the figure has risen from 16
per cent in 1991 to 21 percent in 1995). It is not evident that
such a policy is in the interest of the UK.
In 2001-02, R&D expenditure by the Ministry
of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries is planned to be 34 per cent
less in real terms than in 1986-87, and the Department of Trade
and Industry plans to spend 66 per cent less than the combined
expenditure of the Department of Trade and Industry and Department
of Energy in 1986-87. Without examining in detail the R&D
policies of each Department, it is impossible to judge how far
these expenditure trends reflect Foresight priorities or Ministerial
objectives, let alone whether they are in the best interests of
the UK. But the net outcome of these individual decisions, coupled
with the investment decisions made in the industrial sector, is
that the UK spent only 1.80 per cent of its gross domestic product
on R&D in 1997, compared with 2.09 per cent in 1993, the year
in which Realising Our Potential was published. We believe
that the UK's R&D expenditure is currently too low for a country
trying to compete globally in a knowledge-driven economy.
There are well known arguments for associating
R&D budgets for specific purposes (eg health, agriculture,
environment, etc) with the Departments charged with overall responsibility
for those purposes. Equally familiar are the reasons why such
a policy, coupled with traditional Whitehall territoriality, makes
it difficult to deliver a single coherent approach to government
expenditure on R&D as a whole. This has been exacerbated in
recent years by the practice of relying on "internal markets"
within each department to drive the use of departmental R&D
budgets: it has become all the harder to influence these budgets
from the outside. Within each department, there needs to be a
strong group defending the R&D budget and using it effectively.
This must be linked to a strong voice for R&D at cabinet level.
It will be difficult to arrest and reverse this
damaging drop in R&D expenditure unless each government department
accepts that its policy objectives depend upon a world class Science
Base. Each government department should then include support for
a world class Science Base in its Mission, and should invest accordingly.
This far-sighted approach, if acknowledged in a national strategy
for science, would help the departments to achieve other parts
of their Missions. Many departments turn to the Science Base for
policy guidance. This will be available only if the UK Science
Base is diverse and healthy enough to nurture new ideas and to
stay at the forefront of global developments in science.
The Office of Science and Technology has a pivotal
role in advising on departmental R&D spend and in co-ordinating
such expenditure across government. We believe that OST has achieved
significant progress, notwithstanding the low overall level of
investment in R&D, with these roles in recent years, for example
in setting in place co-ordinating machinery at Ministerial and
at official levels. We note with interest the establishment of
the Chief Scientific Adviser's Committee, which, among other things,
provides collective advice to Ministers through the Ministerial
Science Group. It is clear that the new Committee faces major
challenges in improving the handling of issues that affect several
We also wish to draw attention to the importance
of the Director-General of Research Councils (DGRC) having access
to independent advice. Realising Our Potential stated that
"the Director-General will be advised by a small standing
group of independent experts selected to allow him or her to draw
upon the requisite scientific, economic, industrial and management
expertise in considering the baseline programmes, corporate plans,
longer-term prospectuses, and performance of the Research Councils".
The establishment of such a group would assist the DGRC in his
efforts towards the achievement of the aims of a national strategy
It is difficult to assess the impact of the
Council for Science and Technology, which replaced the Advisory
Council on Science and Technology after publication of Realising
Our Potential. It may be beneficial to make more widely known
the role of the CST and how it relates to the other bodies advising
This seems like several advisory bodies doing
quite closely related tasks. It may be timely to review whether
a degree of collaboration, or even merger, would improve the overall
effectiveness of the system.
The most important asset of the Science Base
is inventive, knowledgeable and skilful people, and this must
be made clear in a national strategy for science. To ensure that
a steady flow of people enters the Science Base, science must
pervade all levels of the formal and informal education system.
The critical first step is to enthuse the young about science.
Science education provides pupils with knowledge
of the natural world, the skills of investigation and experimentation,
and an appreciation of the importance of science to individuals
and society. Science can also develop such personal skills as
curiosity, motivation, teamwork and the ability to communicate.
These skills and values help prepare pupils for further study
and a broad range of careers, as well as providing a basis for
Scientists and engineers from both academia
and industry have an important role to play in supporting the
professional development of science teachers and giving pupils
an accurate image of life in science, providing ideas, resources
and real contexts for science activities. Partnerships between
active scientists and schools can yield significant benefits for
teachers, pupils and the scientists themselves.
But the teaching of science should not be regarded
only as a means of meeting the needs of the Science Base and industry.
A high level of scientific literacy among a wide range of people
will allow society to understand and appreciate the benefits and
limitations of science, an increasingly important feature of a
A flow of talented people into universities
and colleges ensures the high quality of the output from the Science
Base, in the form of skilled scientists and knowledge, on which
successful industry is so dependent. Four further points need
to be considered.
First, the flow between the Science Base and
industry has been helped by initiatives such as collaborative
research grants, engineering doctorate centres, industrial CASE
awards, Faraday centres and special funding for PhD students to
spend an additional year in industry. The Government's emphasis
on lifelong learning is also particularly relevant for scientists
and engineers, given the pace of technological change. We welcome
initiatives such as the Higher Education Reach-out to Business
and the Community Fund, jointly established by the Higher Education
Funding Council for England, the Department of Trade and Industry,
the Department for Education and Employment and the Department
of Education Northern Ireland, and the concept of flexible postgraduate
training accounts pioneered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences
Research Council. Such schemes should be expanded.
Second, the Science Base has a proud record
of serving the needs of industries based on physical and biological
sciences, and of contributing to the UK's quality of life, not
least through developments in the medical and plant sciences.
Increasingly, scientists and engineers will be of value in the
financial services, leisure and creative industries.
Third, it is valuable to have flows of people
in many directions. The Science Base needs a flow of knowledgeable
people from industry, so that there is free exchange of ideas
between industry and HEIs. There are numerous cases, particularly
in information technology, where people educated in the humanities
or social sciences have become skilled in science. We welcome
this and believe that a national strategy for science should encourage
schemes to support the retraining of people to provide them with
Finally, Realising Our Potential identified
another significant problem with the flow of knowledgeable people
to and from the Science Base. It stated:
Women are the country's biggest single most
under-valued and therefore under-used human resource. The Government
believes that there is massive scope to attract more women into
science and engineering.
This problem was examined in more detail in
The Rising Tide in 1994. Although there have been some
attempts to address the factors preventing women from realising
their potential in science at all levels, much more needs to be
done. A national strategy for science must address this issue,
and it would be timely for the Government and the scientific community
to consider together what progress has been made since publication
of The Rising Tide, and what further action needs to be
Basic research can and does contribute to innovation
in ways that are often unforeseen and science is a basis for more
innovation in industry and commerce than is generally recognised.
The Research Councils have taken forward the need to support wealth
creation in industries drawing upon classical disciplines such
as the physical and biological sciences. However, the very essence
of much innovation today is that it does not fall into classical
categories, yet it still needs to be underpinned by the science
base. A national strategy for science must address the need to
invest in basic research in new disciplines and across disciplines
and the application of ideas from the science base to non-traditional
areas such as financial services, even though these are not naturally
represented by one of the Research Councils. To this end, we welcome
the recent emphasis on initiatives across Research Councils, and
would encourage their expansion.
Technology Foresight, re-launched as Foresight
on 1 April 1999, is intended to promote links between business,
science and government to identify future needs, opportunities
and threats. It is not clear that all of the sectors of academia,
industry and commerce that can benefit from this initiative have
embraced it with enough enthusiasm.
Support for innovation is best focused on giving
incentives to entrepreneurs to innovate, and removing barriers.
We welcome, for example, the concessions on Capital Gains Tax
for start-up businesses. It is less efficient for Government to
try to build directly the capability of firms to undertake innovation
that is, by its very nature, extremely varied.
SMART and the Teaching Company Scheme are important
sources of pre-product funds for start-up and small companies.
They are of proven worth and should continue to be extended both
in scale and in scope. A relatively small investment in increased
seed funding here could increase innovation markedly.
The vast majority of start-up companies need
to identify and protect their intellectual property. The Government's
University Challenge has made an excellent start at encouraging
the identification and initial protection of intellectual property
rights (IPR) emanating from the science base. However, we note
the huge and often unaffordable costs of patenting IPR in Europe,
because of the need to conform to each individual national framework.
A national strategy for science should include plans for the Government
to take the lead in pressing for harmonisation of IPR legislation
in Europe, so that a patent may be lodged in only one European
Union country, yet will be recognised and enforceable in all Member
Some IPR is best protected by non-disclosure
and confidentiality agreements (NDCAs). However, if they try to
prove breaches of a NDCA, small companies are always at the mercy
of those with deeper pockets. There is no equivalent of the Legal
Aid system for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). We believe
a national strategy for science should include plans for the Government
to investigate the idea of an "IPR legal Aid" scheme
to support SMEs in cases arising from alleged breaches of NDCAs.
Wealth creation is only one of the outcomes
from the application of science that were identified by Realising
Our Potential. The other, an improvement in the quality of
life, is equally, if not more, important. In an article in The
Independent on Sunday on 27 February 2000, the Prime Minister,
in commenting on recent advances in biotechnology, wrote:
The challenge for scientists is to demonstrate
that they can use these advances not just for making profits for
firms but to improve the lives of people. The challenge for governments
is to provide the highest level of protection for human health
and the environment.
We believe that, if there really is a perception
that scientists are focusing too much on wealth creation and not
on improving quality of life, then the Government itself must
also bear much of the responsibility. The consultation document
for the new White Paper examines the role of science in improving
innovation in industry, but does not emphasise the importance
of science in improving quality of life.
Some areas, such as drug development and combating
crime, provide the potential for improving quality of life as
well as being commercially attractive. The Government must recognise
that a national strategy for science should address both wealth
creation and quality of life. It is not clear if this will be
possible if the national strategy for science is considered only
to be a subsidiary part of the mission of the Department of Trade
Many within the scientific community have recognised
the need to look beyond the public understanding of science. As
highlighted in the report on "Science and Society" by
the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, scientists
and other parts of society must engage in a constructive dialogue
to overcome what has been described as a "crisis of confidence
Certainly greater transparency in the way science
is regulated is required to preserve the scientific community's
"licence to practise", but such a measure only addresses
one of the many challenges facing the scientific community in
its quest to cultivate the public's trust. A national strategy
for science should outline ways to promote a dynamic interaction
between scientists and the rest of society.
The Committee on the Public Understanding of
Science (COPUS) could play a key part in promoting a dialogue
between science and society. Its future role is to act as a national
focus for organisations and bodies involved in promotion of science
in the UK. In order to undertake this new role; the sponsors of
COPUS (the Royal Society, the Royal Institution of Great Britain,
and the British Association for the Advancement of Science) will
disband the existing Committee, replacing it with an expanded
membership to include a broader representation from the engineering
sector, social scientists, the museums and visitor centres, charities,
trusts, learned societies and other key players. The new Council
will monitor national developments, share and disseminate best
practice, and seek new mechanisms for engaging the public in the
development of science policy and the applications of science
in an informed way. A national strategy for science should acknowledge
14 June 2000
16 References in this document to "science"
mean "science, engineering and technology", unless otherwise