Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Save British Science Society
1. SBS has welcomed both the increased Science
Budget, and many of the proposals in the White Paper. The comments
set out below inevitably focus on areas of concern, but they should
be seen in the context of a positive attitude towards significant
increases in funding for the Science Base for which SBS has campaigned
2. The key element of the new White Paper
is the first sentence of paragraph 9, which reads:
"The importance of excellent, curiosity-driven
research cannot be emphasised too strongly."
3. If this philosophy is now to inform Government
policy as a fundamental ethos, then British science is set to
enjoy a new lease of life.
4. The White Paper give a fair and reasonable
summary of how Britain stands in the scientific world at present.
Resting on a proud scientific heritage, we retain a strong scientific
potential, and as SBS pointed out a little over a year ago1, "if
we handle change effectively, the UK is well placed to benefit
greatly from developments in the science-based economy".
5. However, the UK cannot afford to be complacent.
Our share of international science prizes has fallen in the last
two decades, and the number of graduates in key disciplines, such
as chemistry and physics, is also falling. The knock-on effects,
for example in terms of recruiting physics teachers, are also
6. The key proposals of the White Paper
are all welcome. Increased investment in the science base, an
explicit recognition that higher remuneration is one element of
the package required to turn the brain drain into a brain gain,
and a focus on enthusing young people about science, are all valuable.
7. SBS fully agrees that we need better
science in schools, and set out several proposals in a symposium
report entitled Holding on to Excellence in the Science Base
during the summer of 20002.
8. However, we remain deeply concerned about
the recruitment of qualified teachers, especially in mathematics
and physics. The White Paper states that the Government intends
to monitor the effects of offering £10,000 recruitment packages
for teachers in shortage subjects. Since the publication of the
White Paper, there have been strong signals that the packages
are insufficient to stem the problem. In October 2000, it was
reported that the number of people registered to start graduate
teacher-training courses in physics had dropped by 17 per cent
on the previous year's figure3.
9. It is clear that further action will
be needed, other than that which is outlined in the White Paper.
10. Two schemes were announced in the White
Paper aimed at offering better remuneration for researchers.
11. Increases in stipends for graduate students,
together with the scheme announced in the White Paper, and launched
in January 2001, to recruit a small number of the world's leading
researchers into the UK science base, are welcome principally
because they represent an explicit recognition that the "brain
drain" is real and that remuneration is an important element
of the solution.
12. SBS welcomes the fact that the allocation
of the Science Budget, announced in November 2000, stated an explicit
policy that the research councils have the freedom to pay more
than the basic minimum stipend for PhD students if they deem it
necessary, and we hope that the councils will take advantage of
13. However, the schemes for doctoral students
and senior high-fliers will affect relatively few people, and
the bulk of researchers in the science base will remain extremely
poorly paid by international standards, by comparison with their
counterparts who leave science to work in other parts of the economy,
and by historical standards.
14. This is the biggest disappointment of
recent announcements. The extra investment in infrastructure,
the attempts to reinvigorate science in schools, and the mood
of positive appreciation of science and scientists, will all be
devalued if the science base continues to suffer from inadequate
salaries. The Department for Education & Employment's announcements
of the budgets for universities over the coming years show that
the Department is continuing in its failure to understand that
researchers' salaries are one of the most important issues for
the future of the economy.5
15. This is a subject on which the Select
Committee has recently displayed a strong appreciation, and SBS
hopes that the tone and content of recent exchanges with the Science
Minister6 will be fully reflected in the Committee's final report
of the current inquiry.
16. SBS broadly supports the Government's
approach to providing opportunities for innovation in universities.
In particular, we have welcomed the Higher Education Innovation
Fund (HEIF), and its substantial growth over its predecessor,
the Higher Education Reach Out to Business and the Community Fund
(HEROBAC). In 1999, SBS said:
"When it is proved to be a success on the
current modest scale (which it undoubtedly will be), the Reach
Out scheme should be expanded greatly...[but] not, of course,...at
the expense of other funding streams."1
17. Thus, we fully support the White Paper's
announcement that the HEIF will grow to be three times as large
as HEROBAC, and that this is real new money. We hope that in time,
it will be possible to expand the scheme still further.
18. We remain concerned, however, that links
with the economy should not become too central a focus of too
many higher education institutes. Universities are primarily places
where new knowledge is generated, where existing knowledge is
reinterpreted, and where people are educated and trained. Income
from spin-out companies, licensing and other uses of intellectual
property makes up on a tine fraction of total revenue, even in
those American universities that are most successful at generating
income in this way.
19. Thus, SBS welcomes the White Paper's
insistence that UK universities should be able to operate according
to a diversity of missions, allowing some institutions at one
extreme to focus on leading-edge basic, fundamental investigations
and academic teaching, while those at the other end of the spectrum
concentrate on research of direct relevance to local business
and industrially-relevant training. Other institutions will lie
somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
20. This philosophy will need to be backed
up by the funding mechanisms, which must not distort this flexibility
and diversity. In recent years, the Research Assessment Exercise
has forced institutions to concentrate on one particular kind
of output, to the exclusion of others.
21. The White Paper's focus on transparency
and accountability in scientific advice is a welcome continuation
of changes that began with the publication in 1997 of the Chief
Scientific Adviser's Guidelines on the use of scientific advice
in policy making.
22. SBS remains concerned, however, about
aspects of the advisory system. One concern, set out in more detail
in paragraphs 38 to 41, is the serious decline in the budget for
policy-led research in the civil departments.
23. Moreover, serious concerns about the
scientific advisory systems have been highlighted by the BSE Inquiry,
which uncovered specific evidence regarding problems with implementing
regulations in abattoirs. Although the Chief Medical Officer considered
that there was a risk to human health, civil servants prevented
him from informing ministers about his concerns, let alone informing
24. The Report of the BSE Inquiry recommended
that scientific advisers should have a clear role not just as
advisers within Whitehall, but also in advising the public directly.
Importantly, it also found that the current system has permitted
the "inappropriate use" of supposedly independent scientific
25 The ethos of openness that is set out
in the White Paper will need to be rigorously enforced if such
abusers are to be avoided in future.
26. SBS has wholeheartedly welcomed the
announcement of significant increases in funding for the Science
Base over the years 2000-01 to 2003-04. If similar levels of growth
in the Science Budget can be achieved for a period of about a
decade, then (taking into account likely changes in GDP) the UK
would be investing in its Science Base at a level comparable to
the average of other OECD countries.
27. The concerns set out in paragraphs 28
to 41 should be understood in the context of SBS's delight that
UK Government investment in scientific research is increasing
at roughly the level we have been campaigning for over a period
28. The new Science Research Investment
Fund (SRIF) represents a major injection of capital into UK science,
and SBS sincerely hopes that it will enable the universities to
begin to put right the severe damage that has been inflicted on
the infrastructure of the Science Base over the past two decades.
29. Our principal concern is that the requirement
for universities to find 25 per cent of the funds for any project
from other sources may hinder the full potential of the £675
million that has been allocated to capital projects in universities.
30. Although the rules will not demand it,
it is clear both from the amounts required (£325 million
across the system) and from the comments of ministers6, that it
is intended that the bulk of the money will come from private
31. The table below9 shows that UK universities
already raise more funding from private industry than their counterparts
in other countries, relative to government investment.
|Country||Business funding of R&D in higher education, as a percentage of the amount that is funded by Government
32. It may prove difficult to extract further large amounts
of private investment in university research, at least on the
timescale of the SRIF, unless extra incentives are offered to
make it easier for industry to contribute.
33. It would be an unforgivable tragedy if the new scheme
were to prove less effective than everybody hopes it will be,
simply because the difficulties of raising matching funds could
not be overcome in the two years during which the Treasury has
made the funds available.
34. The graph below10 shows how the balance between research
investment in the research councils and the funding councils has
changed over the past 20 years, including estimates for the next
two years based on the assumption that the Scottish, Welsh and
Northern Irish Funding Councils will show the same proportional
increase as the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
35. Quite apart from the deliberate transfer of funds
within the dual support system (represented, for example, by the
steep decline in the graph in the early 1990s), there has been
a continued shifting in the balance of further for research away
from the funding councils and towards the research councils.
36. The announcements in the recent Spending Review appear
to confirm that the Government does not wish to see a substantial
redressing of this balance.
37. This is unfortunate, because without substantial
funds coming via the Funding Council route, the Science Base will
lack the flexibility and freedom to make maximum use of the significant
and welcome new money that has been made available.
38. Research and development in the civil departments
is an important part of the Government's scientific portfolio.
Although the research budgets of these departments are not formally
part of the Science Budget, and although they have not yet been
announced, there is already confusion about the changes that are
likely to be made.
39. The Spending Review document talked about "anticipated
rises" in the research budgets of the three departments that
fund most scientific workthe Ministry of Agriculture, and
the Departments of Health and of the Environment11. But at the
same time, the then Chief Scientific Adviser appeared to cast
doubt on these increases by saying that he hoped these budgets
would stay "at least constant in real terms."12
40. More recently, in response to another of the Select
Committee's inquiries, the Government has made it clear that there
is not yet any clear view about the future research budget of
the Ministry of Agriculture.13 Not only is this uncertainty deeply
unsettling for the scientific community, but, as SBS expressed
in evidence to a previous inquiry, the continued cuts in the research
budgets of the civil departments are deeply damaging.14
41. Moreover, they are not irrelevant to the budget of
the Office of Science & Technology, as one of the research
councils pointed out, when it described the cuts as putting "major
pressure" on the Science Budget.15
42. Overall the White Paper and Spending Review (and
the Science Budget based on it) signal a move in the right direction
for British science. But there remains a long way to go before
the UK truly realises its potential.
1. From the laboratory bench to the boardroom: Creating
wealth from the academic science base, SBS, 1999 [SBS 99/17]
2. Holding on the excellence in the science base, SBS,
2000 [SBS 00/21]
3. Physics World, October 2000, p.13
4. The Science Budget 2001-02 to 2003-04, DTI/OST, 2000
5. DfEE Press Release 508/00 (16 November 2000)
6. Minutes of Evidence taken before the Science &
Technology Committee of the House of Commons, 25 October 2000
7. See the oral evidence of Sir Kenneth Calman on the
website of the BSE Inquiry www.bse.org.uk
8. Report of the BSE Inquiry, The Stationery Office,
9. Main Science & Technology Statistics and Basic
Science & Technology Statistics, OECD, latest editions
10. SET Statistics 2000, OST, 2000, and earlier editions
of this and similar official publications
11. Spending Review 2000: New public spending plans 2001-2004,
HM Treasury, 2000 [Cm 4807]
12. Research Fortnight, 2 August 2000, p.1
13. Government Response to the Seventh Report of the
Science and Technology committee on the Government's Expenditure
on Research and Development: The Forward Lookthe Government's
Reply, Third Special Report of the House of Commons Science &
Technology Committee, Session 1999-2000 [HC 981]
14. World class investment in world class science, SBS,
1999 [SBS 99/23]
15. Government Expenditure on Research and Development:
The Forward Look, Fifth Report of the House of Commons Science
& Technology Committee, Session 1999-2000, Volume II, Appendices
to the Minutes of Evidence [HC 196-II]