Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40 - 45)



  40. Nobody has told them that incontinence is a real problem that they ought to be directing their minds towards?
  (Dr Metz) No, because our systems do not naturally do that.

  41. EQUAL was intended to do that.
  (Dr Metz) It has not done it in that way.

  Mr Taylor: A factual point: Research Councils in blue sky research do have an element when it comes to peer review of directed research, as well as, then, alpha projects which come through and are chosen on their individual merit and the influence on the directive research side of certain research council programmes I think has been effective.

  Dr Jones: It may be that because these are unglamorous subjects; they are more appropriate than others perhaps for some kind of encouragement.

  Mr Taylor: I am not differing from Mr Beard, I am merely saying we need more evidence on what the Research Councils themselves say the impact is on their directed programmes.

Dr Jones

  42. We are questioning ourselves and you are nodding. I am not quite sure that is what is meant to happen. We are coming to the last couple of questions. You mentioned earlier that the MRC seemed to be less engaged with EQUAL, why do you think some Research Councils have been more willing to look to projects than others or is it just, as you say, they were not really engaged with EQUAL, it is just that they were interested in that line of work anyway?
  (Dr Metz) What I see as happening is that different Research Councils have their traditional modes of working. In response to the EQUAL initiative each council did what it would do within its tradition. For example, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council are all used to having strategic programmes of a discrete kind operating over three or four years. They have processes for allocating budgets to do that. In response to EQUAL, naturally they each put in place a relevant programme. The Medical Research Council, in contrast, has not done that, except under quite severe duress because of the magnitude of the problem, like HIV, for example, or like BSE. For the MRC these are quite rare events, strategic programmes of this kind. The MRC believes in responsive mode funding, responding to good ideas from the scientists with all projects competing equally and no protection for any particular area like incontinence. So the MRC operated in that mode. The only particular element that is particularly age related is their LINK Programme, which I mentioned, but that is really quite a small programme and has not attracted a lot of interest. Now whether, at the end of the day, the MRC's approach will be better or worse in achieving desirable outcomes relevant to the health and quality of life of older people it is hard to say. It would be very interesting, I think, to do an evaluation of these different approaches at some point in the future but at the moment all one can say is each council has been true to its traditions in responding to the EQUAL initiatives.

  43. When AgeNet's funding terminates at the end of this year will there be a gap left, or do you feel that your work has been completed?
  (Dr Metz) I think what is going to happen, and I think you may have had evidence on this, is that the Research Councils are planning some kind of cross-council research initiative relative to ageing and the intention is that the AgeNet intellectual asset databases and so forth will be taken over into this new initiative and used in some way. I have not actually had the opportunity to discuss with anyone what that might involve, so I am not really quite sure what will come of it. I think on the whole AgeNet has been a worthwhile initiative. It is hard to put one's finger on quantifiable outcomes but the sense that I get from people whose judgment I respect is that it has been worthwhile. I think something similar will be needed to draw together people from the multifarious disciplines involved to encourage them to work together and actively in constructive new partnership.

  44. What organisations have valued the work of AgeNet; and what are you doing to ensure that any gap is filled?
  (Dr Metz) I am not sure I can do anything to ensure that gaps are filled. The approbation I have had has been from a variety of individuals with high reputation and the facts that we have been able to collaborate with a large number of other organisations in staging joint events to mutual satisfaction. That is not to say that those organisations have felt able to offer funding to sustain AgeNet into the future, but in part that is because AgeNet is an unusual sort of animal. We do not do research, therefore we are not eligible to bid for research funding. We foster, we stimulate research and that is an unusual activity and therefore hard to identify natural sources of external funding.

  45. If you are not prepared to name names, perhaps you might like to let us know if there are any organisations and we can perhaps contact them to see whether they feel that there is a gap that needs to be filled.
  (Dr Metz) Yes.

  Dr Jones: Thank you very much for being our witness today. We managed to catch up and finish on time. I did not apologise at the beginning for keeping you waiting 15 minutes beyond the original start time but I hope you found it a good settling in period. Thank you very much.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 22 March 2000