Memorandum submitted by the UK Life Sciences
The UK Life Sciences Committee (UKLSC) comprises
15 leading learned societies in the cell, molecular, and physiological
life sciences and represents about 35,000 researchers in academia
and industry. This response was compiled by asking member societies
to indicate their agreement or disagreement with a series of possible
views on the initiatives introduced in the 1993 White Paper, as
listed in the Science and Technology Committee's call for evidence.
It has been endorsed by all UKLSC member societies.
1. Statistics can be utilised to show that
Britain's science, engineering, and technology (SET) base continues
to punch above its weight in international competition. But there
was unanimous agreement within UKLSC that we are not fully realising
our potential, in particular with respect to renewal of the science
base. There is a lack of investment in the salaries, career pathways,
and opportunities for young people that is discouraging many of
the brightest students from considering a career in science.
2. There was a unanimous view that Forward
Look is a useful source of statistics on government expenditure,
but that its publication does not appear to have influenced government
policy. For example, the Government has been criticised for allowing
departmental R & D expenditure to decline whilst at the same
time proclaiming its commitment to evidence-based policy making.
UKLSC strongly supports the recommendation of the Commons Science
and Technology Committee that Forward Look should seek to match
published spending figures to previously announced policy objectives,
so that it is more transparent how successful departments have
3. UKLSC members agreed unanimously that
there has been an increase in entrepreneurship and willingness
to engage with industry among academics in the biomedical sciences
in the last decade, but that this could not be ascribed to a single
dominant influence such as Foresight. Indeed, it was considered
that the take-up and impact of Foresight had been patchy and that,
in the biosciences sector, the main participants may well have
been those that already had a strategic view. The pharmaceutical
industry, for example, which has always been keen to work with
academia, played a major role in the first round of Foresight.
UKLSC is advised that the pharmaceutical industry was disappointed
that little tangible or innovative resulted from the programme.
4. A large majority of respondents considered
that the R&D needs of SMEs in the biosciences sector would
be better served by strengthening networks created by regional
bioscience development agencies than by encouraging participation
in the more distant Foresight programme.
5. It was agreed unanimously that there
is little evidence that the Council for Science and Technology
is being effective in providing independent and expert advice
to ensure a proper place for science in government policy-making
and in co-ordinating the publicly-funded SET effort. The rundown
in departmental R&D spending, the withdrawal of funds from
MAFF against the advice of departmental civil servants, the BSE
crisis, and the handling of the GM crops issue, can be quoted
as instances of the Government either not receiving, or failing
to act upon, the advice of the Council.
6. There was a similar level of agreement
that the science community has little idea of what the Council
actually does. Improved communication would be beneficial.
7. It was agreed strongly that there has
been a cultural change in the biomedical sciences so that many
academics are now much more aware of the potential for exploiting
their work. This is probably due to a number of influences in
addition to direct government policy. The observation of national
and international developments in exploitation of molecular biology
by the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, pressure on universities
to interact with business and the community, increased acceptance
and recognition of exploitation activities by peers, greater institutional
support for spin-outs and business development, and the opportunity
to augment academic salaries, may all have contributed. However,
awareness does not necessarily translate into action, since for
many scientists exploitation of discoveries is not a major motivating
factor, and so there is a growing need for effective technology
transfer management in universities.
8. A majority of respondents considered
that financial pressures on universities to obtain matching funds
from industry in order to draw down government funds from a range
of initiatives had led to better exchange of ideas and information
with industry. But it was also thought that many academics who
already interacted with industry would have brought their collaboration
within the scope of matched funding schemes in order to take advantage
of them. Some respondents noted that schemes such as the Joint
Research Equipment Initiative are too lengthy and cumbersome.
Handing the responsibility for their administration to the Research
Councils might simplify procedures.
9. A large majority agreed that undergraduates
and postgraduates should be exposed to entrepreneurship, the culture
of exploiting discoveries, and industrial research. Many excellent
post-docs will not be able to pursue a career in academic research,
and their training should enable them to find rewarding alternative
outlets for their research expertise.
10. It was agreed unanimously, and often
stated strongly, that the Government now needs to focus on encouraging
industry to undertake more R&D and to make more effective
connections to academic groups, so that it can provide the pull
to match university push of technology transfer.
11. A large majority considered that there
are too many bureaucratic support schemes that may confuse SMEs.
The plethora of schemes should be simplified, and consolidated
programmes made broader, longer-term, and communicated well in
advance of their introduction.
12. Within UKLSC's sphere of interest the
regional bioscience development agencies are considered to be
playing an important and successful role in nurturing SMEs and
in helping them to establish academic-industrial networks.
13. A large majority considered that the
Government should encourage the transfer of senior scientists
between academia and SMEs so that they have experience of both,
as the Teaching Company Scheme does at a lower level. Support
for this concept was tempered by the adverse effect that secondment
of senior academics to the industrial sector could have on departmental
teaching and research. If the Government wants transfer to take
place from academia then it needs to provide sufficient funding
to universities for a full-time and long-time post to cover for
the seconded scientist.
14. There were divided views on the extent
to which Research Council steer had influenced entrepreneurial
thinking among academics, with the majority of respondents considering
that it was not a major factor.
15. A large majority, but not all respondents,
considered that Research Councils are too focused on short-term,
goal-orientated research at the expense of basic research, where
the major discoveries are likely to be made. In the case of the
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
the decline in government departmental support of MAFF-funded
institutes put pressure on them to resource their applied research
from the BBSRC budget, which in turn put more pressure on that
Council's basic science budget. The decline in real value of Research
Council funding over the period up to the 1997 Comprehensive Spending
Review also made it harder to obtain funding for basic research.
16. A large majority considered that there
are too many Research Council initiatives that are causing "initiative
fatigue" among researchers. A similar majority considered
that the primary measure of quality in the SET base should be
scientific excellence rather than the potential for commercial
17. It was agreed almost unanimously that
Research Councils need to work more closely together to guarantee
longer-term funding for cross-disciplinary research. One society
was pessimistic about prospects for this and commented that there
is no incentive among Research Council staff to make it happen,
whereas others considered that there are signs of greater collaboration
between the Research Councils.
18. A large majority either considered that
the DGRC had not played a major role in co-ordinating the activities
of the different Research Councils, or felt that they did not
know. In either case the conclusion is that the creation of the
post was not seen by the scientific community to have had a profound
19. Among those who were aware of the DGRC's
activities the majority considered that the present holder of
the post focused too heavily on short-term "output-indicators"
from the Government's post-1997 investment in the SET base. There
was a strong feeling that the DGRC is not sufficiently independent
20. The failure of Public Understanding
of Science (PUS) initiatives to achieve the desired effect has
been discussed extensively, most recently in the report of the
Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into Science and
Society. UKLSC members agreed almost unanimously that such initiatives
were worthy, but shown to have been too often wrongly targeted
and poorly effective.
21. There was strong support for efforts
to be refocused on scientists engaging more with the public on
social and ethical implications of their work, as well as on trying
to improve the understanding of science particularly among young
people. The aim must be to restore some level of appreciation
of, and trust in, the scientific community. Science needs to get
its message across more effectively to counterbalance the propaganda
of opposing lobbying organisations. It is instructive to note
that a recent MORI poll commissioned by the Medical Research Council
on public attitudes to the use of animals in research found that
members of focus groups were readily able to recall negative images
of animal experimentation put out by animal rights protesters.
But they were unsure where to find impartial information on the
reasons why animals are used, and tended to link animal experimentation
with secrecy and unaccountability (Times Higher Education Supplement,
26 May 2000).