Memorandum by the Scottish Higher Education
1. The Scottish Higher Education Funding
Council (SHEFC) is a Non-Departmental Public Body, sponsored by
the Scottish Executive Education, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Department. SHEFC was established under the terms of the Further
and Higher Education (Scotland) Act (1992) and has a remit to
fund the provision of education and the undertaking of research
in higher education institutions (HEIs) in Scotland.
2. The Scottish Higher Education Funding
Council is one of the major funders of the science base in Scotland.
In 2000-01, the Council's total budget will be about £615
million, a significant proportion of which will be allocated to
support teaching and research in SET in Scotland's universities
and colleges. The Council has a clear interest in the development
of science strategy, both at the UK and the Scottish level.
3. In this response, the Council has drawn
attention mainly to the impact of the 1993 White Paper on its
own activities although, where appropriate, we offer some comments
on its wider impact. Our response also provides some comments
on the development of a future strategy for science, engineering
1993 WHITE PAPER
4. One of the main objectives of the White
Paper was to ensure that the science, engineering and technology
base was, in the future, used more effectively to enhance the
UK's competitiveness and to bring improvements in the public services
and the quality of life. The White Paper set out a number of measures,
or policy initiatives, designed to achieve this key objective.
5. The Council's view that it is probably
too soon to tell whether the main objectives of the White Paper
have been met, or are likely to be met. There are two problems
in seeking to assess the effectiveness of the White Paper. Firstly,
the Paper mainly proposed changes in the way in which the science
base should be managed and funded in the future. It did not, however,
set out measurable targets for the future contribution of the
science base to wealth creation and, clearly, the lack of such
targets makes if difficult to assess the real impact of the White
Paper on the UK's competitiveness. Having said that, the UK Higher
Education Funding Councils are currently developing plans for
an annual survey of higher education-business interactions and
of commercialisation activity in the higher education sector.
This survey should allow us to establish a baseline level of activity
in higher education from which improvements in later years can
6. The second difficulty in assessing the
full impact of the White Paper is that many of the policy initiatives
and structural changes, that the Paper proposed took time to implement.
For example, one of the main outcomes of the Paper was the Technology
Foresight exercise and the publication of the first report from
the Steering Group in 19951. However, this report will probably
not have had an immediate impact since many of the bodies that
have played an essential role in taking forward its conclusions,
including the Higher Education Funding Councils and the Research
Councils, required a further period of time to develop new policies
and initiatives in response to the report.
7. In the case of SHEFC, the Council published
a consultation document (Addressing Technology Foresight) which
invited views on how it might best respond to Technology Foresight
and set out a number of options. It subsequently published an
Action Plan in 1996 (Addressing Technology Foresight: Action Plan)
setting out plans to establish a major grant scheme (the Research
Development Grant) which was intended to help improve the fit
between the research capability and Scottish HEIs and the long-term
needs of society, as identified through the Foresight Programme.
8. The Research Development Grant (RDG)
scheme was introduced in 1997-98 and, to date, the Council has
funded a total of 53 proposals to the value of £26 million
(A list of the awards classified by Foresight panels is attached
as Annex A to this Memorandum.) The Council has also recently
announced the funding for a further 16 awards for next year, totalling
£12 million in value. It has not yet been possible to evaluate
the effectiveness of the RDG scheme as a mechanism for addressing
Foresight priorities. However, with the support of the Scottish
Executive, the Council is currently developing an evaluation programme,
which, among other things, will seek to examine the extent to
which RDG awards appear to be addressing Foresight priorities.
The findings from the evaluation are expected to be available
early next year.
9. Overall, the 1993 White Paper appears
to have been successful in stimulating changes in the organisation
and management of the publicly funded science base, and in establishing
clear priorities for funding through exercises such as Foresight.
However, it is not yet clear that there is sufficient evidence
to assess whether the changes have been successful in meeting
the main objectives of the White Paper in enhancing economic growth.
1993 WHITE PAPER
10. The Council believes that the broad
themes and objectives of the White Paper continue to remain appropriate.
In particular, there continues to be a need for the UK as a whole
to ensure that it maximises its ability to exploit its investment
in the science base. Realising our Potential emphasised that it
was essential to maintain the excellence and diversity of science,
technology and engineering in the UK if the nation is to increase
its international competitiveness. In doing so, it also reaffirmed
the Government's commitment to the dual support system for funding
research in the UK. The Council welcomed this commitment and the
evidence suggests that the UK continues to have a broad and diverse
science base, with a balanced portfolio of high quality research
ranging from basic, blue-skies research, at one end of the spectrum,
to highly applied and commercially relevant research at the other.
11. However, a key issue continues to be
whether we have in place effective policies and funding arrangements
to support technology transfer and diffusionor knowledge
transfer as it is now calledso as to stimulate innovation.
To give one example, Bob May has highlighted in the area of Biotechnology
that the UK appears to be a clear second to the USA in the citation
of research papers, but is still some way behind the USA and Japan
in the ownership of patents2. The rate of knowledge transfer that,
in turn, potentially affects the rate of innovation also remains
an important issue. At the same time, the evidence suggests that
UK expenditure on R&D has declined relative to that of our
major OECD competitors.
12. It is clear therefore that an important
theme for a future science strategy must be on improving the contribution
that the science base can make to the innovation process. In particular,
there is a need to encourage greater investment in R&D by
business and industry, and to seek ways of exploiting the science
base more effectively for the commercial benefit of the UK. In
this we welcome the work, at the UK level, to develop a coherent
Science and Innovation Strategy and, in Scotland, the work to
develop a Scottish Science Strategy. We believe that the timing
of this work is critical since other industrialised countries
appear to be developing similar strategies. For example, in Canada,
a report published last year by the Government's Advisory Council
on Science and Technology put forward a number of recommendations
for the federal funding of research aimed at increasing the role
of the science base in the innovation process3.
13. The second main theme that we believe
that a new science strategy should address is that of co-ordination.
There are two dimensions to this. First, there is a need to ensure
that there is continuing close co-ordination between different
government departments across the UK. This is particularly important
in the context of devolution. In this regard, the Council concurs
with many of the arguments contained in the 1999 report of the
Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh4 for
the benefits that Scotland gains from being part of the UK science
base, and for the need for Scotland to remain a well integrated
part of the UK science base. The second dimension to this is to
ensure that there is co-ordination between the different funding
agencies, including the Funding Councils, Research Councils and
enterprise agencies such as the RDAs, or Local Enterprise Companies
in Scotland, all of whom have a role to play in stimulating innovation.
14. Our view overall is that a new science
strategy should seek to build on the objectives of the 1993 White
Paper, but that it should ensure that the underlying policies,
and the mechanisms to deliver these policies, continue to be appropriate.
In particular, there should be a renewed emphasis on innovation
and on co-ordination between government departments across the
UK and between the funding bodies.
A CULTURE CHANGE
15. It is difficult to assess with any hard
evidence whether the attempts to deliver the proposals of the
1993 White Paper have resulted in a culture change across the
SET base. However, our perception is that there has been a change
in the higher education SET base and that this is manifested in
two ways. Firstly, it appears that there is a greater awareness
within the higher education sector of the need to undertake research
in the context of wider societal needs, including commercial needs.
This does not mean, of course, that all research is driven by
immediate economic, social or cultural needs. It is simply that
researchers appear to be more willing to consider the potential
applicability of their research and, where appropriate, to develop
links with the potential users of this research.
16. In part, this is probably a response
to changes in the funding of research. For example, the Council's
Research Development Grant has the specific objective of helping
to improve the fit between the research capability of Scottish
HEIs and the long-term needs of society, and so it is perhaps
not surprising that this is reflected increasingly in institutional
research strategies. However, since 1996, the Council has asked
institutions to provide annual reports, indicating how they have
used Foresight in developing their research strategies. These
reports indicate that most institutions have also sought to embed
the findings of Foresight in their strategic research plans. Examples
include the adoption of particular Foresight priorities in the
planning processes at different levels of the institution, the
dissemination of Foresight information to staff, ring-fencing
budgets for Foresight purposes and requiring Foresight priorities
to be taken into account in applications for research funding
from public sources.
17. The other area where there appears to
have been a change in attitudes or culture, at least in Scotland,
is in the organisation of research and the resources to support
research. In particular, there is a greater willingness among
institutions to collaborate with each other, including between
institutions with very different backgrounds and histories. The
forms of collaboration range from formal institutional partnerships,
such as the "synergy" partnership between the Universities
of Glasgow and Strathclyde, to more local collaboration in the
sharing of research facilities or equipment. The majority of proposals
for support from the Councils' Research Development Grant scheme
now involve partnerships between higher education institutions
in Scotland, and between institutions and external bodies. Another
notable feature of the applications to the RDG scheme is the number
of proposals to establish "Scottish Centres of Research"
which, rather than serving the interests of only one institution,
involve collaborative partnerships that build on complementary
strengths of different institutions. We believe that these developments
have served to strengthen the science base in Scotland and are
consistent with the objectives of the 1993 White Paper.
A NATIONAL STRATEGY
18. The Council agrees that the aims that
the UK Government has set out for a modern SET strategy are appropriate
and, indeed, there is a significant degree of consonance between
these aims and those in the 1993 White Paper. We believe that
this is helpful since it implies an evolution from the objectives
of the original White Paper, rather than a fundamental change.
As we have already highlighted, we believe that an important issue
for the new strategy will be that of co-ordination across the
UK and between different funding agencies. We also believe that
responsibility for implementing the aims of the strategy need
to be clearly defined, including clarifying boundaries of responsibility
between different government departments and funding agencies.
20. The Government's recent consultation
was right to highlight the need to improve the flow of skilled
scientists and engineers to business. However, we believe that
one of the most important factors that influences the availability
of skilled scientists and engineers to work in industry and beyond
is the number of school pupils studying science who progress into
higher education and, thereafter, into postgraduate study and
research. (Although, there are also clearly other external factors
including the state of the labour market and the economy, as well
as remuneration levels and conditions of service for researchers
which will be relevant.) A further issue that the proposed Science
and Innovation Strategy might therefore consider is that of science
and education, including the education, training and career development
of science teachers.
21. Finally, under this heading, the Council
agrees that one of the aims of the Science and Innovation Strategy
should be to ensure that the UK is able to take advantage of the
globalisation of research. However, we believe that it is important
that the role of the Foresight exercise in helping to identify
the areas of the global research effort where the UK can contribute
most should be fully recognised in the strategy.
22. The Council's view is that a modern
science strategy for SET must be characterised by an emphasis
on the development and maintenance of a flexible, diverse scientific
research base that is excellent by international standards. In
particular, the Higher Education Funding Councils have a key role
to play in ensuring that the UK has a strong basic research capacity
which will provide the foundation for strategic and applied research
that are essential to the development of the knowledge-based economy
23. However, investment in a basic scientific
research capacity is not by itself a sufficient condition to achieve
enhanced economic growth and improvements in the quality of life.
A second main feature of a strategy therefore is the development
of effective mechanisms for knowledge transfer and the commercialisation
of the research base. This requires stimulating the supply of
knowledge, technologies and skills from the science base; and,
secondly, increasing and improving the demand from the industry/business
sector. A copy of a response that the Council has provided to
the current consultation by the Scottish Executive on the development
of a Science Strategy for Scotland is attached to this Memorandum
as Annex B5. This response sets out in more detail the Council's
views on the main features of a science strategy.
1Progress through Partnership. Report from the
Steering Group of the Technology Foresight Programme 1995. Office
of Science and Technology. 1995.
2 The Scientific Investments of Nations. Robert
M May. Science. Vol. 281. 3 July 1998.
3 Public Investments in University Research:
Reaping the Benefits. Report of the Expert Panel on the Commercialisation
of University Research. ACOST. May 1999.
4 Devolution and Science: A Report by a Joint
Working Group of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society
of Edinburgh. April 1999.
5 Not printed
20 June 2000