Memorandum submitted by the Institute
The Institute of Physics is an international
learned society, publisher and professional body for physics.
With over 30,000 members it looks after the interests of professional
physicists and promotes physics education and understanding to
I would like to take this opportunity to raise
two issues of concern to the Institute which do not relate directly
to the questions asked. I would be most grateful if you could
bring these concerns to the attention of the Committee.
First, the questions asked concentrate particularly
on the activities of the Office of Science and Technology (OST)
following the White Paper. However, the White Paper also considered
science funded via the Ministry of Defence and the Civil Departments
of State. In recent years such funding has fallen significantly
while the Science Budget of the OST has received a modest increase.
The Institute recommends that the Committee pay particular attention
to support of science across government, not just that supported
by the OST, in the years after the White Paper.
Second, national understanding of the process
of research, development and innovation, and the concept of a
global economy, has moved forward since the White Paper. A strong
research base needs strong public support, combined with other
factors, such as a vibrant higher education sector, liberal free-markets,
appropriate regulation and a tax system attractive to inward investment.
Scientific innovation is more complex than the linear model, by
which local discovery leads through a series of linear steps to
local industrial products. Nations will inevitably see local discoveries
developed overseas, and conversely must maintain receptivity to
foreign innovations and discoveries. A narrow focus on the importance
of UK science for UK industry is liable to miss many of the key
benefits of globalisation.
Some of the points raised in the Institute's
submission (eg innovation and the new synchrotron) relate to previous
inquiries of the Select Committee. In particular the Institute
submitted written evidence to the inquiry into Engineering
and Physical Sciences Based Innovation (195-II Appendices
to the Minutes of Evidence pp. 320-325. Session 1999-2000).
(1) The annual publication of Forward Look
to provide a clear and up-to-date statement of the Government's
Strategy for science, engineering and technology (replacing the
more limited annual review);
The Institute makes limited use of this publication,
although it recognises that there will be other organisations
in science policy, especially government departments, for whom
it is more suited.
(2) The creation of Technology Foresight (now
Foresight), designed to "achieve a key culture change: better
communication, interaction and mutual understanding between the
scientific community, industry and Government Departments";
The first Technology Foresight exercise had
a negative impact on physics research. Its use to influence the
Research Councils' funding policies was detrimental to basic science,
as it steered worthy grant applications away from basic science
funding in seeking to align Research Councils' priorities to Foresight.
Foresight is more suited to guiding strategic development and
However, Technology Foresight usefully raised
the profile of Technology and established relationships between
industry and academe. Although the process involved the wider
community via surveys etc, the results of Technology Foresight
were essentially only seen in the Research Councils, who were
obliged to adopt selection mechanisms that were often inappropriate
to basic research.
It is too early to judge the second Foresight
initiative, but it is hoped that it will have greater effect on
R&D in industry.
(3) The abolition of the Advisory Council
on Science and Technology and its replacement with the Council
for Science and Technology "to help ensure that the Government
benefits from outside independent and expert advice when deciding
on its own research spending priorities";
The Council for Science and Technology (CST)
has not yet achieved the visibility that had been hoped for when
it was re-launched. Thus, its benefits have been difficult to
judge. The Institute is of the view that the CST has an important
role to play in informing and influencing policies on scientific
issues, and hopes that in due course it can emulate the impact
its predecessor bodies had on the scientific community.
Predecessor bodies such as the Advisory Council
on Science and Technology (ACOST) were more influential and active,
and regularly published reports on issues ranging from biotechnology
to industry-academia links, which had an impact on the Government
and on the science community. The CST has regrettably been slower
in this area, although its report earlier this year on science
teaching is to be commended.
(4) A shifting of emphasis for technology
transfer initiatives to place more importance on "the interchange
of ideas, skills, know-how and knowledge between the science and
engineering base and industry";
It is not possible to make any judgements as
to whether the changes in universities' and academics' attitudes
to industry links are a direct result of the White Paper, or are
the outcome of a continuing change in culture. However, the Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council's (EPSRC) Faraday centres,
the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council's (PPARC)
PIPPS schemes (which encourage collaboration with industry), the
ROPA funds, and various other initiatives have had positive effects
within the physics community. ROPAs, in particular are awarded
by the Research Councils for fundamental research linked to industry,
further encouraging the community to be entrepreneurial and innovative.
It is of concern that these schemes place the
bulk of responsibility on the Research Councils, and they alone
cannot deliver. The schemes need a continuing change in public
attitudes to research and development and greater manpower to
Efforts to bring academic science and industry
closer are to be encouraged, but have been less effective in the
area of physics because of a decline in industrial research and
development in the physics-based industries. For instance, the
UK R&D Scoreboard 1999 shows that last year UK industrial
R&D in the pharmaceutical sector increased by 11 per cent
and health research by 65 per cent, but research in the following
physics based areas decreased significantly:
|Electronic and Electrical
||16 per cent|
|IT Hardware||21 per cent
|Media and Photography||5 per cent
|Telecommunications||16 per cent
The United Kingdom cannot afford to detach itself from such
a broad swathe of technology if it is to have a modern forward
(5) Programmes to improve access for small and medium-sized
enterprises to innovation support programmes;
The House of Commons recently concluded that the UK's relatively
poor science record in innovation in engineering and the physical
sciences is not the result of a weakness in the science base.
The UK is strong in its physics research (a point supported by
an International Panel of physicists who recently undertook a
review of UK physics ) and there are more innovative ideas
than are taken up and exploited by industry. Innovative science
needs to be supported, and industry, in particular the small and
medium-sized enterprises (SME), need to shoulder some of that
responsibility and offer relevant training/employment opportunities
to science based PhDs.
Programmes such as SMART and Business Links have not had
the intended impact. SMART has not been a good match to the requirements
of most technological SMEs. Business Links was under-resourced
and had inadequate business models, and its structures were difficult
to follow. It has been replaced by the Small Business Service
(SBS), which appears equally too complex to encourage use by companies.
(6) The reorganisation of the Research Councils with modified
management structures and new mission statements which made more
explicit their commitments to wealth creation and the quality
The research funded by the Research Councils is, rightly,
of a long-term nature, and it is extremely difficult to measure
the economic impact of research. Importantly, much of the impact
of research undertaken in the period since 1993 is still to be
realised. It is, therefore, too early to comment on whether the
reorganisation of the Research Councils has had any major impact
on wealth creation and quality of life.
The Institute supports the need to improve the application
of science to wealth creation and quality of life, but questions
whether the science and technology strategy by itself can offer
a route for wealth creation and quality of life. Following the
White Paper, competitiveness and innovation have been superimposed
on wealth creation and quality of life. Not all the gains from
science and technology can be measured in these materialistic
and short-term goals. The invaluable contribution made by science
to the understanding of ourselves and the universe needs to be
taken into greater consideration.
Research funding should be allocated on the basis of the
best science, the best people and the most imaginative proposals.
The Institute is firmly of the view that a funding policy based
on this premise serves the nation well in terms of wealth creation
and quality of life.
An International Review of UK physics, concluded that the
quality of research in EPSRC managed programmes is lower than
research funded in responsive mode . While programmes to encourage
research in specific areas will be required, the judgements on
what is funded should be done by responsive mode methods.
The Institute is not in a position to comment on the effect
modified management structures within the Research Councils have
had on their overall operation. However, in the area of physics
the different policies and practices of the Research Councils
are confusing and, in EPSRC at least, has left the community feeling
distant and uninvolved.
The White Paper proposed a structure with six Research Councils.
In the years after the implementation of the White Paper a seventh
Research Council, CLRC, was created with a funding basis quite
different from the other six Research Councils. The Institute
is concerned that the financing mechanism operated by the CLRC
is not the most effective use of resources nor match to other
Research Council priorities. In addition, the Institute is concerned
that the process by which the location of the new synchrotron
facility was decided and announced has damaged relations in the
community and public perceptions of the decision making process.
The Institute trusts that the role and operation of the CLRC will
receive the Committee's attention, in this inquiry.
(7) The creation of the post of the Director General of
the Research Councils and the absorption of the functions of the
Advisory Board for the Research Councils into the Office of Science
The Institute feels that the Director General of the Research
Councils (DGRC) could benefit from a more open advisory system.
The Institute is of the view that the DGRC would be ideally
located in the Office of Science & Technology (OST), within
the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). As originally recommended
by the White Paper, the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) should
be wholly located in the Cabinet Office, where the CSA can have
greater authority to influence independently scientific issues.
The placement of the CSA within the DTI has not been beneficial
to science, as it has placed restrictions on the CSA when suggesting
science and technology policy across government.
(8) The launch of a new campaign to spread understanding
of science among school children and the public.
The relationship between science and society requires three
communitiesscientists, the Government and the wider publicto
interact together on a basis of mutual understanding. Recent topics
such as genetically modified foods have illustrated that there
is still some way to go in this regard.
The White Paper has had a positive effect on public appreciation
as it gave formal credibility to the movement and authorised real
expenditure from the science budget on activities. It complemented
the Royal Society's work in the 1980s, which gave scientific respectability
to public understanding. In the last 15 years there has been a
sea change in attitude by the science community, especially in
promoting physics to the public, which was a major part of the
Government's strategy. However, while the Research Councils have
each incorporated public understanding into their activities,
to date they have failed to agree on a collaborative public understanding
strategy. Nor has there been an effective imposition of the need
for all those receiving public funds that they make their work
publicly accessible. Schools and people need a clear understanding
of what science means in terms of their present and future lives.
With a shortage of teachers in the physical sciences, this does
not bode well for the economic well being for the UK in the long-term.
In 1993 there were 568 physics graduates entering teaching, and
currently the number stands at around 220.
The White Paper sees public understanding as one of the elements
in the better provision of scientists and engineers to meet the
country's needs. In section 7.2 it proposes changes in the education
and training system to achieve this. However, seven years on,
progress towards the anticipated goals has been limited. Neither
the numbers continuing their studies in the physical sciences
post-16, nor the proportion of girls in the post-16 cohort, have
increased significantly. Entries to higher education to study
the physical sciences and engineering suffer in quality and quantity.
As observed by the International Review of UK physics , the
British educational systems are excessively financially driven,
and science comes off worse.
Poor stipends offered to the physical sciences are deterring
graduates from entering research careers, which will be detrimental
to the future of British physics. Physics research continues to
suffer from a low level of funding, and it is the task of the
Government and the Research Councils to support young people in
physics research and education and to provide them with the requisite
The White Paper proposed a one-year degree, the MRes, as
an intermediate qualification at a level between a first degree
and a PhD. This degree was ultimately limited in its scope, as
it was reduced from a full-scale project to a pilot. The learned
societies including the Institute of Physics did not support such
a degree, as it was felt that the existing four year undergraduate
degrees, e.g, the MPhys, already served as a solution of bridging
the gap between traditional (BSc.) first degrees and PhDs.
(9) Closing comments
The Institute supports many of the premises and principles
of the White Paper, but believes that it will be many years before
we will realise the full effects of the recommendations of the
White Paper. It is, therefore, still too early to say whether
its resulting policies have had a positive effect on UK plc.
12 June 2000