Select Committee on Science and Technology First Report



96. There is at present no Research Council covering research either in the arts or the humanities. Public funding for the research in the humanities outside that delivered through the HEFC block grant is channelled through the Humanities Research Board of the British Academy. In 1997-98 the Humanities Research Board received £20.75 million grant-in-aid to disburse in support of post-graduate awards and research.[239] The situation in regard to funding the arts and arts design is more complicated, as NCIHE found, but what little public funding there has been, has been the responsibility of the Arts Council.[240]

97. The NCIHE felt that researchers in the arts and humanities were put at a disadvantage as "they not do have direct involvement in high level discussions about research funding and policy"[241] and consequently recommended that the Government should establish a new Arts and Humanities Research Council as soon as possible.[242] None of our witnesses argued against this proposal and, indeed, the majority welcomed it.[243] While we do not consider that it is for us, as the Science and Technology Committee, to comment in detail on the precise arrangements for public support of research in the arts and humanities, we endorse, in principle, the establishment of an Arts and Humanities Research Council and welcome the Government's commitment to consider this in the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review.[244]

98. There is, however, one aspect on which we feel obliged to comment. It has been suggested that any Arts and Humanities Research Council should be created "as part of the Office of Science and Technology".[245] The position of the proposed council within Government was the subject of much debate among our witnesses. The Baroness Blackstone told us that she did not believe that it would be appropriate for it to be placed within the DfEE: "it should not be in the DfEE. It should not be in a Department which does not fund universities directly".[246] She also added that it would look "rather odd to have a research council in the arts and humanities in an Office of Science and Technology; certainly people from abroad would find it bizarre".[247] Not only people from abroad-we too find the suggestion bizarre. Quite apart from issues such as funding and the essential ring-fencing of the Science Budget within the OST, the fact that the OST is headed by the Chief Scientific Adviser to Government, and the implications the inclusion of an Arts and Humanities Research Council would have for the position of the Director General of the Research Councils, we would be concerned, as the Minister for Science told us he would be, that a such a move would be inconsistent with the emphasis in Government policy which we wish to see placed on science, engineering and technology.[248] We strongly recommend that the Government should reject any proposals that the Arts and Humanities Research Council should be placed within the structure of the OST.


99. There is at present a wide range of Government schemes designed to promote collaboration between industry and the research base, for instance, LINK, the TCS, Co-operative Awards in Science and Engineering, Realising our Potential Awards, SMART and Faraday Partnerships. Many of these schemes attract significant contributions from industry. The NCIHE were however concerned, as were a number of our witnesses, that such a large range of separate schemes was confusing.[249] Furthermore, the NCIHE felt that "against a background ... in which it is Government policy to encourage all industry, especially small and medium sized enterprises, ... it is appropriate to have a funding stream that actively promotes collaboration between higher education and industry and commerce".[250]

100. The NCIHE's response to these two factors was to propose the creation of an Industrial Partnership Development Fund (IPDF) which would act as a single vehicle to deliver the plethora of existing schemes and in doing so create an additional funding stream to support applied research initiatives in partnership with industry. The IPDF would support successful applications for research projects from industrial/academic collaborators on a 50:50 basis, the IPDF meeting the costs of the university.[251] The scheme would be funded from the resources, currently about £50 million a year, devoted to other initiatives, although the NCIHE envisaged that some initiatives would retain their identity within the IPDF. The NCIHE recommended that, in the long run, Government funding for the IPDF should rise to about £100 million per annum. It also suggested that the Fund could be administered, at least in part, on a local or regional basis.[252]

101. The NCIHE's call for greater clarity in Government initiatives designed to promote research collaboration between academia and industry was widely welcomed by our witnesses but many questioned whether the IPDF was the correct way to address the problem. The ABPI and SmithKline Beecham, for example, were concerned that one overarching body could become monolithic in its approach and that the flexibility to be able to tailor specific programmes to specific needs would be lost.[253] NERC and the EPSRC had reservations over how the IPDF would relate to their own schemes to promote collaboration and the effect that rolling them, with their funding, into the IPDF would have on Research Councils' ability to pursue their missions of promoting industrial collaboration.[254] Other witnesses did see some merit in a scheme which would promote universities' roles as regional centres of research expertise to be drawn upon by local industry. The AUT, for instance, told us that "one of the prime functions of an IPDF should be the active promotion of local and regional partnerships".[255] SBS argued that the fund could, in particular, help to develop links between university researchers and small businesses. We accept that there is scope for such developments but are unconvinced that the IPDF proposed by the NCIHE is the right vehicle. The HEFCW, for instance, told us that, while they would support the administration of the IPDF on a regional basis, it might be more appropriate for them to take the responsibility themselves.[256] We, like the majority of our witnesses, are unable to see any significant benefits in an IPDF above and beyond those already delivered by existing schemes.

102. Nevertheless, we accept the need for clarification in the existing schemes run by Government. The CBI, among others, suggested that this could be achieved by using the already strong identity of the LINK scheme to consolidate a number of schemes under one banner.[257] Indeed, the Government has already been doing this to some degree. We recommend that the Government investigate whether greater use could be made of the LINK scheme to reduce confusion caused by the large number of Government initiatives designed to promote research collaboration between industry and academia.

103. We, like the NCIHE, were made aware of significant private sector concerns over the way in which some schemes designed to attract industrial investment in research in higher education had been introduced without consultation. The ABPI made the point clearly when they told us "whatever the mechanism, whatever the forms of partnership, we feel we do have something to say and if being asked to provide new money would like to have the opportunity to influence the debate to begin with".[258] It seems obvious to us, if companies are to be asked to enter into a partnership or a collaboration, that they should be consulted on the basis of that partnership and therefore strongly endorse the NCIHE's suggestion that "in future, Government departments should consult with industry before introducing shared cost schemes".[259]

104. The NCIHE argued for an extra £50 million of Government funding for the IPDF in the long term. While we welcome the Government's commitment to continue to encourage the participation by industry in higher education, we do not consider this to be a priority area for additional public investment. As the Government noted in its response to the Dearing Report, "higher education institutions have a good record in developing research links with industry".[260] Rather the Government must seek to fund current research activities adequately before considering additional funding for additional research.


105. The NCIHE rightly drew a distinction between the two uses made of information technology (IT) by researchers in higher education.[261] Firstly, IT is used as a research tool by, for instance, analysing data and information or modelling virtual and remote environments. The equipment used in this manner is an integral part of the research equipment needed for particular projects or in particular subject areas and therefore should be funded in the same manner as other research equipment. The second use of IT is as a means of access to on-line information and communication between researchers. Funding for such services has been provided, in part, through initiatives on the part of the HEFCs' Joint Information Systems Committee. As the NCIHE pointed out "funding for such services is significant but finite, and other means of funding them will have to be found if they are to continue".[262]

106. It is widely accepted that the continued provision of such services is essential.[263] The NCIHE's recommendation that the Joint Information Systems Committee should continue to manage and fund IT services on a permanent basis and that it should charge institutions for their use of the networks on volume of usage basis was widely supported in our evidence.[264] Charging institutions would generate revenue for continuous investment in the networks and should not strain institutions unduly if our recommendations on funding are implemented. Moreover, charging would be more likely to lead to the provision of a system that meets the needs of the users and to encourage disciplined and responsible usage. We endorse the NCIHE's recommendation that the Joint Information Systems Committee should permanently fund and manage electronic communications and information services for researchers and should introduce charges for those services based on volume of usage.

107. Some witnesses drew particular attention to strains put on the academic network (SUPERJanet) by the ever increasing volume of traffic it handles and its relative lack of bandwidth.[265] It was felt that this was a particular problem in relation to international communications.[266] The NCIHE, alive to such concerns, recommended that the Joint Information Systems Committee report on the options to provide protected international bandwidth to support UK research.[267] We understand that the Funding Bodies have already asked for costed options to be produced. We welcome this.


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.[268] 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 Committee (SEBCC).[269]

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".[270] 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 and technology".[271] 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.[272] 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.[273] 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",[274] 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.[275] 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.

239  Ev.p. 212. Back

240  The Dearing Report, para 11.47-48. Back

241  The Dearing Report, para 11.45. Back

242  The Dearing Report, recommendation 29, p. 176. Back

243  Eg QQ. 107, 315 and 385; Ev.p. 141. Back

244  Department for Education and Employment, Higher Education for the 21st Century: Response to the Dearing Report, February 1998, p. 32. Back

245  The Dearing Report, para 11.50. Back

246  Q. 528. Back

247  Q. 528. Back

248  Q. 560. Back

249  Q. 287; Ev.pp. 65 and 187. Back

250  The Dearing Report, para 11.72. Back

251  The Dearing Report, para 11.74. Back

252  The Dearing Report, para 11.75. Back

253  Q. 127; Ev.p. 176. See also eg Ev.pp. 31 and 192. Back

254  Ev.pp. 121 and 189. Back

255  Ev.p. 181. Back

256  Ev.p. 105. Back

257  Ev.p. 87. Back

258  Q. 128. Back

259  The Dearing Report, para 11.71. Back

260  Department for Education and Employment, Higher Education for the 21st Century: Response to the Dearing Report, February 1998, p. 30. Back

261  The Dearing Report, para 11.41. Back

262  The Dearing Report, para 11.42. Back

263  Eg Ev.pp. 17 and 189. Back

264  The Dearing Report, Recommendation 27, p. 173. Back

265  eg. Q. 89. Back

266  eg. Q. 184. Back

267  The Dearing Report, Recommendation 28, p. 174. Back

268  The Dearing Report, paras 11.106-107. Back

269  The Dearing Report, para 11.105. Back

270  Ev.p. 2. Back

271  Ev.p. 2. Back

272  Ev.pp. 174 and 195; QQ. 344-350. Back

273  Q. 8. The Advisory Council on Science and Technology (ACOST) was abolished in 1993 when the Council for Science and Technology was established. Back

274  Ev. p. 206. Back

275  eg Ev.p. 118. Back

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