Memorandum submitted by The Royal Society
1. The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)
is pleased to respond to the Select Committee's request for comments
on the "Are We Realising Our Potential" Inquiry. The
RSE is Scotland's National Academy of Science and Letters, comprising
Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full
range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and
the professions. This response distils the views of a wide cross
section of Fellows. The timetable for submission meant it was
not possible for it to be fully considered by the Council of the
Society, and has, therefore, been approved by the Officers on
its behalf. Given his prior involvement as Chief Scientific Adviser
in the White Paper, and because he has given evidence separately
to the Select Committee, the Society's President, Sir William
Stewart, has not been involved in producing or approving the RSE's
2. The Realising our Potential White
Paper of 1993 was an important landmark in recognising the importance
of the research base and its contribution to the wealth of the
UK. It paved the way for what has been built on and adopted since,
and demonstrably raised the profile of science. The development
of the Office of Science and Technology (OST) and the reorganisation
of the Research Councils have been highly beneficial, resulting
in an important voice for science in government. The concepts
of public/private partnerships in science funding are now better
developed, although the UK is still playing below an international
level in industry research and development (R&D). On the whole,
therefore, the White Paper must be regarded as a significant success.
It would be foreshortening our options and vision, however, to
say that we are yet fully "realising our potential":
there is ample scope to continue to build upon the White Paper's
3. The specific areas of consideration are
1993 WHITE PAPER,
4. Many of the issues highlighted in the
inquiry have been moved forward significantly as a result of the
implementation of many of the recommendations of the White Paper.
Overall, progress has been made in most of the areas identified.
The creation of Technology Foresight
5. Technology Foresight caught the imagination
of the science and technology (S&T) community and brought
together industrialists and academics who were entrusted by the
prospects of creating a technology and market blueprint that aimed
to enhance wealth creation and improve the quality of life within
the UK. Many of the participants in the programme felt that this
initiative was overdue. It brought the UK in line with technological
powerhouses such as the USA and Japan who have their own technology
look-ahead methodologies, and placed us ahead of others. The Foresight
process was sometimes misrepresented as a forecast activity that
attempts to predict the future. Hopefully this misunderstanding
has now been corrected and that it is now recognised that Foresight
is concerned with alerting the business and academic communities
to market and technology opportunities already on the horizon.
Foresight has provided a useful framework for
exploring key issues regarding science/industry links and the
processes have produced useful and interesting material. Networking
has been greatly enhanced and the outcomes of Foresight have been
incorporated into government policy documents. Applicants to the
Research and Funding Councils need to know the relevance of their
work to Foresight priorities. Attitudinal changes take a long
time to develop and we believe that significant change has not
yet occurred. What is clear is that the outcomes of Foresight
can provide the glue that holds together the goals of Realising
our Potential and other current or future related initiatives.
It will be difficult in the long-term to de-convolute
the relationship between economic success, lifestyle improvements
and the Foresight process. However, this should not prevent attempts
being made to do this. Possible metrics include trends in: the
industrial relevance of science base R&D; the technological
balance of payments for the UK; health and other quality of life
statistics; patenting activity; number of high-technology start-ups;
business expenditure on R&D.
The abolition of the Advisory Council on Science
and Technology and its replacement with the Council for Science
and Technology (CST)
6. The CST has, from the outside, been relatively
low profile. This is not to say that it has not had a positive
effect but that it is very difficult to evaluate externally. One
view is that it should be more transparent in its advice and commentary.
However, it would need to guard against becoming simply reactive,
media-driven, or less incisive, in its advice.
A shifting of emphasis for technology transfer
initiatives between the science and engineering base and industry
7. The greatest impact of the White Paper
has been to promote a change in culture within the science community,
encouraging greater dialogue, partnership and collaboration. Most
attention has been focused on the transfer of technology and knowledge
out of universities, with less being done on the transfer into
companies and innovation within companies. The response of industry
has been patchy: for example, small to medium-size enterprises
(SMEs) have not sought to take as much advantage of links with
academia as might be hoped. Universities are, therefore, becoming
better at supplying technology and innovation, but there is not
the required demand from the UK business base in taking this up,
partly because some of what university R & D is offering does
not match UK industry's view of what is exploitable technology.
The consequence is likely to be a stronger university base transferring
knowledge to export markets where there is both the demand and
also the capability.
Programmes to improve access for small and medium-sized
enterprises to innovation support programmes
8. It has inevitably been more difficult
to deal with the issues of access for small and medium-size enterprises
to innovation support programmes. There is a continuing problem
with SMEs which no one has solved satisfactorily. There is the
constant problem of the resources available within small companies,
which are almost always fully stretched. Engaging creatively with
additional initiatives, therefore, poses real problems for them.
The LINK initiative and Teaching Company Scheme (TCS), however,
have been successful.
The reorganisation of the research councils
9. The White Paper has provided the impetus
to analyse operations and improve efficiency within the Research
Councils, allowing a greater proportion of the science budget
to be freed to fund science. Much has been achieved since 1993
through rationalisation, restructuring and finding more efficient
ways of working, often through joint initiatives.
10. One of the White Paper's reforms, however,
was a commitment to maintain and strengthen the Rothschild customer-contractor
principle in relation to departmental applied research and development.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee's
Fifth Report: Government Expenditure on Research and Development,
The Forward Look (March 2000) drew attention to the issue
of departments withdrawing funding from the science base, often
at short notice. This has often resulted in staff redundancies,
site closures and, at worst, loss of national research capability
in particular areas. Financially the science budget may, as a
result, have to pick up the pieces.
The creation of the post of the Director General
of the Research Councils (DGRC)
11. The creation of the DGRC and the absorption
of the functions of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils
in to the OST has provided a focus for the co-ordination of the
activities of the Research Councils, as well as enabling the undertaking
of pan-Council initiatives and providing a cohesive platform for
the bid for the science vote. One could argue that the latter
has been the single most important impact, if measured by the
successful outcome of the 1997 Comprehensive Spending Review.
The launch of a new campaign to spread understanding
of science among school children and the public.
12. Realising our Potential raised
the issue of the need for greater efforts to improve public understanding
of science and technology and today the Research Councils and
a number of bodies, including the Royal Society of Edinburgh,
are now involved in a wide range of activities aimed at promoting
dialogue between science and society. The recent House of Lords
Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report: Science
and Society, however, has identified shortcomings in the current
relationship between scientists and the public which still remain.
The Society's views on this issue can be found in its submission
to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology's
inquiry into Science and Society.
THE 1993 WHITE
13. The emphasis of the 1993 White Paper
on creating partnerships to benefit UK wealth creation and quality
of life is as relevant now as it was in 1993. However, while recognising
that the kind of change that the White Paper aimed to bring about
takes time, there are specific problems which require further
work. For example, as noted above, the industrial input into R&D,
and therefore the means of connecting up the high quality of research
in universities with the needs of industry and commerce, has still
some way to go. The reasons for this are many. In the larger companies
it is often the needs of institutional investors who want an annual
return as high as possible and company managers responding to
the desire for good financial results by constraining R &
D investment. In the smaller companies the continuing problems
of time and energy and internal resource equally pose barriers,
as does the "communication gap" between science and
general managers. Some progress is being made, but there is not
enough industrial "pull" to maximise the advantages
of the UK's research base.
14. A significant development since Realising
our Potential is devolution. As was concluded in the Royal
Society of London and Royal Society of Edinburgh's joint study
into Devolution and Science, the science, engineering and
technology base should remain well integrated on a UK level with
as few internal barriers as possible. The Research Councils, which
are a reserved UK function and which should remain so, and the
devolved Higher Education Funding Councils, should recognise their
important roles in maintaining the UK SET base. At the same time,
devolved powers should be a basis for more effective application
of the SET base through the creation of regional alliances, as
advocated in the 1998 White Paper on Building the Knowledge
Driven Economy. The means whereby these latter objectives
are attained will vary from region to region, depending upon the
nature of devolved responsibilities. It is important, however,
that, as the constitutional arrangements become more complex,
effective means of co-ordination of the UK SET base are developed.
15. In terms of other themes, there would
be merit in more express recognition of such developments as the
growing importance of biotechnology, the increasing globalisation
of industry and research, and the importance of the value in the
international market of knowledge, and of services flowing from
the ownership of knowledge.
16. Another area where further attention
would be beneficial concerns the research infrastructure within
universities. The Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) initiative has
been good and timely; however, it is essential that as part of
the current comprehensive spending review some longer term measures
are put in place to ensure that the research infrastructure available
in British universities is adequate to the needs of the economy.
This adequacy needs to relate to the speed at which technology
moves and to allow maximum exploitation of that infrastructure
within institutions and through partnerships with other related
17. With regard to the managing, development
and renewal of central facilities, there would also be merit in
a systematic approach to new capital facilities. There have, up
to now, been difficulties in approving, and now in setting up,
the management for facilities, such as the new synchrotron radiation
source. As a result, it could be argued that the UK has suffered
loss of expertise in managing capital projects and failed properly
to exploit the facilities we have.
1993 WHITE PAPER
18. The emphasis of the White Paper was
on the themes of wealth creation, partnership and training. Many
of the issues have been taken forward, and are more embedded in
the policy making environment and SET community, as seen in the
accepted prominence of the role of the science base in future
19. Within the science community, the White
Paper has resulted in the promotion of a change in culture, encouraging
greater dialogue, partnership and collaboration, although effort
still needs to be concentrated on stimulating industry to innovate
and to work with the universities.
20. The RSE believes the list of aims is
appropriate although there could be some mention of science for
the public good.
21. The main features of a modern strategy
for science should be:
promotion of excellence in the science
base, because only excellence will suffice in a highly competitive
fostering of collaboration with industry,
because the science and technology base is such a potentially
valuable resource to industry and to society generally;
retaining a global perspective, because
of the increasingly global nature of the economy; and
being open with the public, because
only through the provision of better communication of information
can the public's unease about science and technology be addressed.
22. While there has been some co-ordination
of government department research, co-ordination and integration
of departmental research with the main policy making functions
should also be a main feature of the science strategy.
23. It should be noted that the Scottish
Executive is also developing a science strategy for Scotland.
Devolution has changed the patterns of responsibility for regional
components of the SET base and is likely to produce regional priorities
for it. This will create both risks to the effectiveness of the
SET base and opportunities to increase its effectiveness. It will
be important to avoid the former and exploit the latter.
24. In responding to this inquiry the RSE
would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of
Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject: The
Scientific Advisory System (June 1998); Devolution and
Science (April 1999); Science and Society (June 1999)
and Government's Expenditure on Research and Development: Forward
Look 1999 (December 1999). Copies of this response and the
above publications are available from the Research Officer, Dr
Marc Rands (email: [email protected]).
12 June 2000