Memorandum submitted by the UK Life Sciences
The UK Life Sciences Committee comprises 16
leading learned societies and represents some 35,000 cell, molecular
and physiological life scientists working in academia and in industry.
The UKLSC is pleased to provide additional evidence to the Science
and Technology Committee inquiry.
1. UKLSC was pleased overall with the White
Paper, which showed clear evidence that the Government had listened
to the views of people and organisations working to sustain and
improve the excellence of Britain's science. For example, in a
special pre-White Paper edition of Science and Public Affairs
a member of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, and
senior people in science policy at SmithKline Beecham, the Wellcome
Trust, and the Royal Society listed as their priority issues:
the need to maintain a strong science
the need to strengthen links of the
science base with wealth creation, including the need to simplify
the technology transfer initiatives;
the need for an improved academic
career structure to aid recruitment and retention of the best
the need for diversity of mission
and the need to improve the public
perception of new scientific developments.
These were all identified in the White Paper,
but not always addressed adequately.
2. The most notable deficiency of a Paper
that claimed to be a strategy document for science and innovation
was the failure to address the issue of pay and conditions for
the overwhelming majority of academic scientists. The move to
improve PhD stipends recognised the growing problem of attracting
the best students to start out in research, although it has to
be recognised that the increase was from a very low and uncompetitive
baseline. The pool of funding intended to reverse the brain drain
and attract a limited number of top researchers to the UK was
useful. Such innovators can be an impact disproportionate to their
number. But the White Paper did not address the fundamental problem
that some of the brightest young scientists choose not to pursue
careers in academic research because of the lack of prospects.
3. The continued funding after the JIF to
improve infrastructure was welcome. It will need to be monitored,
so that the requirement for universities to obtain sponsors for
25 per cent of the costs of any projects funded does not result
in undue bias towards a small number of research-intensive institutions.
4. Following the Comprehensive Spending
Review of 1998 the Government was criticised for balancing increased
investment in the Science Base with decreased on R&D by government
departments. It is still not clear whether the money announced
for the Science Base represents new funding or largely a reshuffling
of existing money. The fact that the OST still has little influence
on the setting of R&D budgets by other government departments
militates against a joined-up Government science policy.
5. The White Paper's acknowledgement of
the responsibility of the government for funding basic research
and maintaining an excellent science base, whilst at the same
time clearly wanting to exploit any discoveries made, is welcome.
UKLSC agrees the need for selectivity of funding for basic research,
and for universities to have a diversity of missions. The increased
size of the HEROBC pool as a permanent third leg of funding should
encourage more universities to expand their work with business
and the community.
6. The initiatives for technology transfer
were largely extensions of existing schemes and whilst welcome,
do not appear to have simplified procedures. Funds to strengthen
regional science and to create networks, to be made available
through regional development agencies, will be welcomed although
UKLSC pointed out in an earlier consultation that much collaboration
is carried out on a national or international scale rather than
at a regional level.
7. The section on public confidence contained
many fine words but few definite actions. The emphasis on the
updated guidelines on the use of scientific advice by government
departments and agencies, and a new code of practice encouraging
openness for advisory committees, may be of limited value. Similar
guidelines and advisory committees were in place in the last two
years when the public mistrust over genetically modified foods
grew. Little was said about encouraging scientists to engage more
effectively with the public other than that the Government would
build on existing research council initiatives in training scientists
to communicate their work. Furthermore, focus needs to be placed
on mechanisms to enable the public to have more input into science
11 January 2001