Memorandum submitted by the Higher Education
Funding Council for Wales
1. The Higher Education Funding Council
(HEFCW) is responsible for the administration of funds made available
by the National Assembly for Wales in support of the provision
of education and the undertaking of research by higher education
institutions in Wales. Its interest in the Science and Technology
Committee's inquiry stems from the Government's commitment to
a dual support system for research carried out by the higher education
sector. The overall purpose of the research funding provided by
the Council is to enable the maintenance and development of a
flexible and dynamic high quality research base in Wales, thus
complementing the funding made available by the Research Councils
for individual projects.
THE 1993 WHITE
2. The Government's strategy in the White
Paper was to improve the nation's competitiveness and quality
of life by maintaining the excellence of the United Kingdom's
research capability. High profile was given to the role of science
and technology in the economy. The importance of technology transfer
(ie a greater accessibility of research results from the science
base to industry) was stressed, as was the need for the science
base and for those providing public funds in supportthe
Research Councils and the Funding Councilsto take into
account the needs of industry in forming priorities.
3. Although the White Paper did not call
for radical changes in the structure and operation of the Funding
Councils, its published aims have become manifest in the objectives
of HEFCW and have been reflected in the way that institutions
in Wales have responded.
4. HEFCW's monitoring of institutions shows
a marked change in attitudes. There is much more emphasis on actions
in support of wealth creation, exemplified for instance by increased
income from contract work. HEFCW has sought to encourage these
activities through a number of funding initiatives and is now
moving towards a permanent funding stream in support of contract
work and other programmes, including those allied or akin to research
conducted with industry and commerce (so-called "third leg"
funding). Likewise, the Council works in partnership with the
Welsh Development Agency on initiatives designed to support the
aims of the White Paper.
5. In this context, the Committee should
note that the Funding Councils have built the White Paper agenda
into successive Research Assessment Exercises. Thus, HEFCW's conclusion
is that the White Paper's objectives and themes have led to a
culture change, and that they remain appropriate to the development
of a strategy for science, engineering and technology, from both
the national and territorial standpoints.
6. In terms of the Government's plans for
achieving its objectives, HEFCW endorses the agenda set out in
para 4. Bullet points 3 (streamlining knowledge transfer schemes
and focusing them on clearer goals) and 4 (fostering regional
networks) are matters of particular relevance to the National
Assembly for Wales, and HEFCW's role in maintaining a research
base that will support the Welsh economy. The Assembly has made
available a budget of £15 million over 2000/01 and 2001/02
for the Knowledge Exploitation Fund, intended to give added impetus
to collaboration between business and higher education.
7. HEFCW is also currently conducting a
review of its policy and mechanism of funding research. This will
feed into the Assembly's review of higher education taking place
in the Autumn of 2000, in which exploitation of the research base
is likely to feature as a major priority. In this context, the
operation of the next round of Foresight with a stronger regional
dimension will be of significance, as it seeks to identify priorities
of specific relevance to Wales.
8. A point made strongly by sector institutions
in responding to HEFCW's consultation on research policy (February
2000) was that support for a research base that contributes to
quality of life in its broadest sense is often overlooked in concentrating
on economic competitiveness. It might be appropriate to make specific
mention of quality of life issues in the plans put forward to
achieve the Government's aims.
12 June 2000