Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
OBE, PROFESSOR SIR
CBE, PROFESSOR JULIA
GOODFELLOW CBE, AND
MONDAY 11 MARCH 2002
100. Professor Lawton, do you have any views
of the British education system?
(Professor Lawton) I do but they are private views
and I do not think my research council formally has views. I can
tell you where my research councils issues are. We have a pool
of about 1,000 PhD students, the biggest difficulty we have, and
this does help to answer your question, is not in recruiting biologists
and environmental scientists, that is relatively straightforward,
we have considerable difficulties in recruiting sufficient numbers
of adequately trained mathematicians, physicist and engineers
into the environmental sciences and I suspect that is partly a
reflection of the number of young people wishing to go into maths
and physics at school and then into undergraduate degree courses.
101. It is a pity the three of you are not being
a bit more explicit with your views because these things matter
and this is an opportunity to change things. This Committee has
quite a lot of influence, it is a pity you have not taken the
(Professor Lawton) We could give you anecdotes, but
that is not evidence-based.
102. You have been in this business of research
councils for donkey's years, I would have thought you would have
a well-formed and quite an informed opinion of the British state
education system as a result of your work?
(Professor Lawton) We recruit very high quality graduates
into our graduate programmes. We are not finding it difficult
to recruit high quality United Kingdom graduates in general. We
are finding it difficult to recruit adequate numbers of mathematicians,
physicists and engineers and I said that I thought that was as
a consequence of the shortage of young people we know nationally
going into those as under-graduates.
(Professor Goodfellow) I would agree fully on this,
it is the whole area of informatics what we call bio-informatics,
because of the amount of data we are getting in, this is an area
where we want to see more people and we do need to have more people
trained in mathematics and the sciences. It is very important
that there are robust structures for examination at A-level that
people are taking maths at A-level.
Chairman: You are gradually warming up, Mr Gibb!
103. Do you believe there is no point in teaching
knowledge to children and what matters is teaching them how to
learn because knowledge is always changing. Is that your view
of how your potential future research scientists should be taught
and you should not teach knowledge at secondary and junior level?
(Professor Sir George Radda) I think you need a combination
of knowledge and the ability of how to handle it. The real issue
is now. I think that science is changing so rapidly that we need
to get to the schools and say to them, you now need to teach science
in a way that is more consistent with the modern approach, that
is we are looking for people who can bring quantitative knowledge
and quantitative thinking to science that was previously thought
to be qualitative. We want mathematicians in biology. The system
of education in this country and elsewhere in the world is not
really ideal to generate this new sort of scientist. I think in
our case, in the bio-medical field, we are going to need a lot
more people who would have gone to pure physics also being able
to think about biology. We need to look at the universities and
at the schools level of how you can teach science that makes people
excited about it and also able to look at it in a flexible way
from different angles. That is my view about the sort of way that
I would like if I had an influence on education, which I do not,
I can express an opinion, and you asked for it, that would be
104. That is very helpful indeed.
(Professor Goodfellow) This whole idea of enthusiasm
for science, which I think people in biology are really feeling
at the moment because of the whole change in technology that is
coming through the sequencing and genomics programmes I am not
sure we are getting through to school children. I am sure all
of us at this table have given lectures in schools and we do promote
105. Do you believe that philosophy of teaching
our children is not about teaching knowledge, because knowledge
is always changing?
(Professor Goodfellow) They have to have some knowledge
but they have to learn techniques. Learning how to do experiments
I think that is very important for scientists, it does not matter
what experiment they are doing but they can learn the way of testing
hypothesis through experiments and that is taught in secondary
(Professor Lawton) I would echo those comments and
simply add that the other extremely important thing to try and
teach young scientists is for them to be able to say, I do not
know, I do not understand that but I know how to find out.
106. Do you agree with the comment, you should
not be teaching knowledge you should be teaching them how to learn?
(Professor Lawton) No, I do not. You can have beautiful
thoughts if you do not know anything, many youngsters do. On the
other hand you can be so bogged down by stuff in your head that
you have not learned to think. Like all of these things, it is
a question of teaching both.
Chairman: Those are very interesting answers.
It is always the out of order questions and answers that are the
107. Can I ask one final question. Do you think
that when the state is engaged in research it should be confined
solely to pure research and never to applied research?
(Professor Sir George Radda) I do not make a very
strong distinction between pure research and applied research.
The boundaries are not as defined as people think. Much of the
research that the Medical Research Council does eventually is
going to be applied; it is a question of what stage you do it.
I think it is very important and the current government rightly
recognises the importance of pure research, as you put it.
(Professor Goodfellow) We fund pure research across
the applied side and we work in partnership with DEFRA on the
applied side in agriculture.
108. You think it is right for the state to
engage in applied research and not confine itself to pure research,
which is the area of research that is least likely to be carried
out by the private sector?
(Professor Goodfellow) I think we have to do both.
The greatest success is when we see it going across from pure
and applied, especially in the strategic areas and then taken
up by industry.
(Professor Lawton) It also depends how you define
"applied". A huge amount of the science that NERC and
BBSRC and MRC does is science for the public good. It is science
that as a nation we need to know. Try running a sensible economy
without geological maps or tide tables, for example. The fact
that people need to know that information does not mean to say
it is second-class science that delivers the answer.
Mr Gibb: Thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Gibb, for that. David
109. I would like to say, first of all, to Professor
Lawton I was delighted to hear about the high quality of graduates
going into NERC because 30 years ago NERC gave me a grant to go
(Professor Lawton) Things have got distinctly better
110. I think you have just turned me from one
of the nice members of the Committee into one of the nasty members
of the Committee! What I was going to ask just as an aside to
begin with, which leads me into a different subject, is we used
at that time to do quite a lot of research that was then used
by the Met Office. When you are commercialising it, is it work
that is necessarily done for a private company which is going
to make private sector profit or could it be work done for other
government agencies? Is that common?
(Professor Lawton) Absolutely. If we go back to the
little Table 5 and look at line 3, NERC receives as commissioned
research, predominantly from government departments, £26
million a year in money from government departments where they
wish to know something about the environment that they cannot
procure in any other way. That would include very substantial
pieces of research on the atmosphere in terms of building into
climate change models, but a whole gamut of other things that
government departments wish to know. From our point of view it
is one of the most important mechanisms that we have of turning
basic science into (in this case) science for the public good,
albeit somebody pays to have that research donepredominantly
111. Mr Young, on a more general basis it is
true that the government research councils are selling their products
to other government agencies? To what extent can that be really
commercial? To what extent can you get the right price for that
(Mr Young) It is a difficult matter of judgment and
negotiation is the general answer. It is a haggle. I do not know
if John can help you further.
(Dr Taylor) As you may be aware, there is a major
review going on with Treasury at the moment called the Cross-Cutting
Review of Science and Research. Over the last three years we have
installed in the university research sector a comprehensive system
of tracking the costs of doing research and the results of that
are in the public domain now. It has been very instructive to
get universities to a situation where they can for the first time
know what it costs them, for example, to accept a contract from
a government department to do a piece of applied research. As
part of this major review which is on-going right now, we are
looking very fundamentally at the structures for funding research
in the universities, the so-called dual support system where part
of the money for doing research in universities comes from funding
councils, and the other parts come from the research councils
that I am responsible for but also, increasingly, from the EU,
from charities, from other government departments, from industry.
It is becoming fairly clear following the Dearing Report and so
on that certainly in universities there are fairly major funding
gaps. There is a low price culture. There is an under-funding
of the real full economic costs of accepting a research contract.
I think you will find a lot of very active debate and discussion
about this set of issues as we go through the summer and the cross-cutting
review about what we really should be saying about the real costs
of performing one of these research contracts. It is not a perfect
market-place at the moment, I think it is fair to say.
112. I am glad to hear that you will look into
it. It does sound like a bit of weakness in terms of how you do
this commercialisation as a whole. I understand it in the private
sector but this side of it seems to be weaker. Can I come back
to Mr Young. Following on from something Mr Davies was asking,
I do not quite understand some of the figures. You said there
is £500 million being spent on scientific research with the
various research councils, 83 establishments, of which 59 are
in seven research councilsparagraph 1.
(Professor Goodfellow) In our institutes, not in the
113. Sentence two of the very first paragraph
of the Report states: "Over £500 million of this in
1999-2000 funded research and research facilities in 83 public
research establishments ... 59 of which are grouped together under
seven research councils." That sounds as if the £500
million covers more than just the three research councils.
(Dr Taylor) Other government departments have other
114. So how much of the £500 million is
just the three here?
(Dr Taylor) It is about £450 million for the
three research councils.
(Professor Goodfellow) We put £70 million recurrent
into our eight institutes per annum.
115. My colleague has found the figure in paragraph
(Dr Taylor) It is about £450 million for these
116. So we must be getting fairly close to five
per cent in some of them. I make the amount of money coming in£15
millionfive per cent of £340 million.
(Dr Taylor) Be careful because we are talking about
various different numbers here. Sometimes they are talking about
net profits from commercialisation activities and sometimes they
are talking about the gross income from all forms of contract
research. Some of these numbers include all of the money that
for example government departments might have paid the Institute
for Animal Health or the British Geological Survey for a piece
of contract research and we do not count that as profit from commercialisation;
it is gross income from commercial contracts.
117. So the figures given in 1.9 where we were
talking up to £15 million altogether, that is just income
not profit; is that what you are saying? Paragraph 1.9, if you
total up the three figures between the three research councils
it comes to £17 million.
(Professor Goodfellow) That is just from licensing
and spin-outs. For instance, if you take the BBSRC figures, you
have got £2.7 million, we have another £14 million which
is coming in in direct industrial contracts, and then we have
another £30 million coming in from government contracts under
118. I am getting more and more confused. The
five per cent figure is profit not income? You are supposed to
be under five per cent in terms of profit rather than income?
(Mr Young) The Treasury rule is set out on page 34
in paragraph 4.6. The Treasury would consider it consistent ...
to have flexibility in spending between years, including the ability
to carry forward surplus where there is good business justification.
The Government has disavowed any intention to reduce funding support
to commercially successful establishments ... It should generally
be possible, therefore, to plough additional income from commercialisation
back into research funding ...
119. I do not know if Treasury colleagues would
like to give me the ruling
(Mr Glicksman) The Treasury guidance comes from a
document called Selling Government Services into Wider
Markets and it is a wider policy than just commercialisation
of science. It is about the general wider market policy of government
of which this is one part. The policy is that where annual receipts
from wider market activities exceed five per cent of the relevant
gross expenditure, departments should consult the Treasury.