108. The NCIHE's final recommendation relating to
research, made with some hesitation, was that an Advisory Council
on National Research Policy should be created to take an "objective
overview" of the arrangements for research funding in higher
education, to identify inconsistencies in the policies of different
public bodies and to report on their performance.
The NCIHE accepted that this recommendation was made without a
full understanding of the roles of the Council for Science and
Technology (CST) or the Science and Engineering Base Co-ordinating
109. It is important to understand the roles of existing
mechanisms for co-ordinating research policy before considering
whether further mechanisms are needed and therefore we set out
the terms of reference for the two groups with the NCIHE referred
to. The terms of reference of the CST were "to advise the
Government on science, engineering and technology (SET) issues,
the balance and direction of Government-funded SET, taking account
of international developments; and of the annual Forward Look
of Government-funded SET, drawing as appropriate on the findings
of the Technology Foresight Panel".
It is chaired by the President of the Board of Trade and membership
includes the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and senior
figures from industry and the research community. The terms of
reference of the SEBCC are "to consider trans-departmental
issues affecting the science and engineering base, referring,
as necessary, to Ministerial and official committees on science
It is chaired by the Chief Scientific Adviser and members comprise
the Director General of the Research Councils, the chief executives
of the Research Councils and the Funding Councils and senior officials
from the four education departments.
110. Many witnesses accepted that they knew little
about the CST. This situation was exemplified by the chief executives
of the BBSRC, the MRC and the EPSRC who all agreed that they did
not know the membership of the CST and, indeed, asserted that
the membership was not publicly known.
We find this surprising as the membership of the CST is publicly
available. There were also numerous calls for industrial representation
on any body advising ministers on research policy. Again, we believe
that such calls are based on ignorance of the current mechanisms-the
CST has always included a number of senior industrial representatives.
Nevertheless it is clear that the role and work of the CST, to
date has not been widely understood within the research community,
and that there has been little confidence in its effectiveness,
which we consider to be lamentable. Part of this lack of clarity
may result from the decision taken in 1993, when the CST was established,
that it should operate in a paper-less mode. As the OST explained
"there was a perception that the precedessor body, ACOST,
published lots of reports with lots of recommendations addressed
to the Government which had sat on shelves gathering dust"
and therefore that the CST might be more effective if it delivered
its advice in private.
This does not seem to have to have been borne out in practice.
As a result of these concerns, the Government have already announced
the re-establishment of the CST with wider terms of reference,
increased independent representation and commitments on behalf
of the CST to publish an annual report and information on its
work and to make the advice it delivers public. We welcome these
developments. We recommend that the enhanced role, extended
membership and advice of the CST is disseminated widely so that
its work carries the confidence of the wider research community.
111. Many of our witnesses were unconvinced of the
need for a further body. The BMA, for instance, told us that "at
best it may be seen as a poor attempt to divert the use of funds
to 'best effect'. At worst it would merely add to the number of
bureaucratic funding strategies in place",
although many of the counter arguments witnesses presented were
based on the fact that they believed the CST and SEBCC already
performed the role which NCIHE outlined for the advisory council.
We are not convinced that the roles of the CST and the SEBCC are
directly relevant to the NCIHE's proposal for an advisory council
on national research policy. The NCIHE envisaged a group covering
the whole of the research base-not just science, engineering,
and technology-in higher education rather than spanning all the
sectors involved in research as the CST and the SEBCC do. Nevertheless
we, like many of our witnesses, are unconvinced of the need for
an advisory council for national research policy as envisaged
in the Dearing Report.
112. Any decision on whether to create new a body
or not should be based on a thorough and rigorous analysis of
the mechanisms that are already in place to oversee the research
base and deliver advice. We would prefer to see those mechanisms
that already exist working effectively and carrying the confidence
of the research community rather than the creation of another
body which could replicate the failings of existing ones. Only
when this has been achieved will it be possible to identify those
areas were further co-ordination, direction or monitoring are
needed. We recommend that the Government, before considering
the need for an advisory council on national research policy as
envisaged in the Dearing Report, conduct a rigorous analysis of
the mechanisms that are already in place and ensure that they
are working properly.