97. The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering
both achieve a great deal with the funding they receive from OST
and other sources. Their awards and fellowships provide valuable
alternatives to those provided by the Research Councils. However,
it would benefit both organisations to make their processes more
transparent and to make greater efforts to become more inclusive.
Academies of excellence are useful, provided that they really
represent the best in their fields and not those with the best
connections. It is imperative that the Royal Society and the Royal
Academy of Engineering be able to remain above accusations of
insularity and elitism if they are to maintain their dignity and
good name in the scientific community. Neither society should
forget that it is a recipient of government funding and that scrutiny
is therefore justified.
98. We have considered the work done by other learned
societies across the UK and found them impressive. They are able
to sustain a high level of activity on often limited funding,
little of which can be attributed to Government, and we praise
their efforts. We have concentrated in this Report on those who
receive government funding. Under the present system, some societies
receive a great deal of money and others none, or almost none.
Although we recognise that some societies reject the idea of government
funding, seeing it as a threat to their independence, we also
know that others would welcome grants towards their activities.
The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering have not
found their independence compromised by receipt of government
funding. We know many societies already benefit from one-off payments
for specific projects. While it would be unrealistic to suggest
that the Government fund the work of all scientific learned societies,
we have suggested that a mechanism be established through which
learned societies could have access to centralised government
funding. We recommend that OST evaluate the work done by these
societies with a view to identifying and funding some core activities.
99. Considerable expertise rests in the scientific
learned societies and we do not think that Government makes sufficient
use of their knowledge. In this Report we recommend that the Government
make more effort to commission research from scientific learned
societies and to meet the costs of research from those societies
from whom they commission substantial pieces of work. Raising
the profile of the scientific learned societies can only be a
positive thing for the enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, science
in the general public. Government should make every effort to
100. Although we have found some areas for concern,
we are impressed by much of what has been achieved, not only by
the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering but by
the UK's learned societies as a whole. Some efforts are still
too piecemeal, particularly in the public communication of science,
and would benefit from a strategic approach. We recommend that
OST give thought to what it would like the learned societies it
funds to achieve and how best to ensure this. Not enough attention
has been paid to the publicly-funded activities of these bodies.
OST should ensure that they are held properly accountable. Learned
societies receive funds not just from the OST but also from other
Departments. The Government needs to think strategically about
the money it is giving out to learned societies through its various
funding streams in the form of one-off grants and whether this
money could be used more efficiently.