Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Institute of Physics
The Institute of Physics is a leading international
professional body and learned society with over 30,000 members,
which promotes the advancement and dissemination of a knowledge
of, and education in, the science of physics, pure and applied.
The Institute is pleased to have the opportunity
to add to its earlier comments to the Select Committee for its
inquiry into the DTI's White Papers of 1993 and July 2000.
The Institute welcomes the 2000 White Paper,
as an important contribution to public policy. The Institute also
welcomes the associated Science Budget settlement, which together
with the earlier 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review provides a
firm basis for the necessary sustained growth of the UK's scientific
research. Government is to be congratulated for taking practical
steps towards providing the UK with appropriate levels of research
investment. However, despite, these welcome measures, it will
be difficult to rectify the UK's long-standing R&D shortfall
relative to its key international competitors, particularly because
research budgets around the world have been increasing significantly.
For instance, last year US federally funded research budget grew
by 9.1 per cent in a single year.
The White Paper considers an important set of
developments affecting the research culture of the physical sciences,
including globalisation, the knowledge economy, the internet revolution,
multidisciplinary research frontiers and changes in the social
contract. Two particular issues stand out.
First, key changes to the nature of scientific
research will occur largely independent of the actions of government.
Government has a responsibility to respond to change, to help
shape change in the science and technology arena, and to provide
resources for specific elements but it must work in partnership
with other key stakeholders to ensure maximum effect. The White
Paper has identified several emerging threats and opportunities
facing the UK's technological future. The challenge lies in delivering
sound policy in such a shifting landscape.
Second, the changes now underway in the physical
science are unusually fast moving. The Institute notes extraordinary
demand for highly qualified physicists from emerging high-technology
sectors, such as telecommunications, IT, management consultancy,
banking and the entertainment industry. The high remuneration
packages on offer to physicists entering such sectors mean other
sectors, including health care, defence research, university research
and school teaching, are struggling to find sufficient physics
applicants to fill positions. The pool of applicants is limited
and the salaries and terms of employment on offer in these other
sectors appear increasingly uncompetitive. Several of the struggling
sectors are publicly funded, not least academic and research sectors,
which are finding it difficult to respond to these emerging pressures.
Government stills plays a dominant role in the
supply of scientific personnel and a large role in demand. Considering
the public sectors' demand for scientists there are key areas
of the public sector that are already facing difficulties in recruitment.
Urgent action is required by government to make scientific careers
in the public sector more attractive.
The Institute would like to make the following
points in response to specific statements made in the White Paper.
1. The Institute welcomes the £1 billion
Science Research Investment Fund (chapter 1, paragraph 32) and
the £250 million boost to research in key areas of physics
(including nanotechnology and quantum computing) and biology,
which will help UK universities to compete on an international
level. The Institute is also pleased with the commitment by the
government, the Wolfson Foundation and the Royal Society to contribute
£4 million a year to recruit top researchers (paragraph10)
and that postgraduate students will benefit from increased financial
2. The Institute also welcomes the additional
funds for universities through the Higher Education Innovation
Fund (chapter 3, paragraph 9). Some of the developments facing
UK physics research, such as an increasing emphasis on "third
leg" mission will require effort and flexibility on the part
of the research community. The increasing diversity of missions
for our universities represents an opportunity for the sciences.
The Institute would be glad to play a role in providing a forum
for the research community and policy-makers to take these ideas
3. The Institute is of the view that science
in general, but physics in particular, has not been funded at
a level that will retain our position against the enormous strides
taken by other countries and industrial competitors. Science funding
has failed to exploit the imagination, skills and historical lead
of the British scientific community, both at the detail (eg effective
funding of decent laboratories and workshops) and at high level
(eg full-scale shifts of funding away from exciting and relevant
areas of research such as applied nuclear physics).
4. The infrastructure of the universities
is fundamental if the UK is to maintain its stronghold as a world
player in innovative research, and the additional money for infrastructure
will certainly help in providing universities with better research
facilities. However, more will be needed in the near future, if
UK scientists and engineers are to compete effectively on a global
scale. The Institute recognises the contribution of the Joint
Infrastructure Fund (JIF), but does not agree that it has significantly
affected university infrastructure. Rather, most of the money
has been used to fund a number of important and worthy university
based research and innovation projects. Although undoubtedly beneficial,
JIF failed to address the essential problem of infrastructure.
British university physics departments suffer from outdated machine
shops, poor physical plant and buildings and eroded human resources
in technical support. This view has been supported by an International
Panel, which recently conducted a review of UK physics and astronomy
Given these limitations of JIF, the Institute is pleased to note
that the £1 billion Science Research Investment Fund will
provide funds in the region of £675 million to address the
problems of inadequate research facilities in the universities.
The Institute would be pleased to work with the Research Councils
and the Office of Science and Technology (OST) to ensure that
the new funds are used to the greatest effectiveness in physics
5. The White Paper makes several references
to technologies in which physics is the key discipline, including
modern communications, superconductivity, basic technology such
as nanotechnology and the reference to CERN. To ensure the development
of new knowledge and its utilisation for wealth creation, the
UK needs to encourage physicists to follow their research instincts.
Basic curiosity-driven research (chapter 1, paragraph 29) is vital
to wealth creation and quality of life in the UK. Investment in
fundamental research represents an underpinning for the multiple
and complex demands of a high technology society.
6. The Institute welcomes the measures to
stimulate investment by business and commerce in enterprise and
innovation (chapter 3). In particular, further funding for the
science enterprise centres is welcomed and proposed changes to
the LINK initiatives will make collaborative work with business
easier. The Small Business Research Initiative is an important
proposal, but small business will need to be made aware of it
and will need support to be effective at the bidding stage.
7. The Institute concurs with the view (chapter
2, paragraph 22) that the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) may
favour single subject research at the expense of interdisciplinary
collaborations. Data prepared for the recent International Review
of UK Physics suggested disturbing trends in research staff numbers
in university physics departments, with an increase in the core
physics disciplines and a decline in such areas as medical physics,
biophysics, geophysics and atmospheric physics. These results,
based on a limited data, warrant further investigation. The White
Paper regularly points to multidisciplinary collaborations as
vital to the future research capabilities of the UK and hence
wealth creation and quality of life. The International Panel in
its report was particularly critical of the punitive nature of
the RAE and suggested that the continuation of the present system
could result in substantially fewer research departments in physics,
in the foreseeable future. It is debatable whether such a small
number of departments would be sufficient to provide enough well
trained PhDs for the academic and industrial needs of the UK.
8. The Institute has been an enthusiastic
contributor to the Foresight initiative and welcomes the launch
of the new Foresight Fund of £15 million (chapter 3, paragraph
3) which will aim to put the best ideas of Foresight 2000 in to
action. However, the Institute also notes the statement that,
in the past, the Government has not placed enough emphasis on
basic technology (chapter 2, paragraph 29). The Institute believes
that the Foresight fund should be used to fund those Foresight
initiatives, which encompass basic technology. The science base
is functioning well and should not be undermined by funding these
new areas. Rather the Institute detects an opportunity to boost
technology support expenditure through DTI budget lines that once
supported an interventionist industrial policy.
9. The Institute welcomes the additional
funding for PhD stipends, (chapter 1, paragraph 32) as current
levels are deterring physics graduates from entering research
careers. However, despite the additional funding, the Institute
is of the view that serious attention must be paid to enhancing
the career development of young physicists. The creation of long-term
research positions in universities should be encouraged in order
to avoid the current situation whereby many physicists are trapped
in a series of successive short-term, low paid appointments. The
Institute is, therefore, pleased that the Government recognises
these concerns (chapter 2, paragraph 34). The Institute's report
on the Career Paths of Physics Post Doctoral Researchers,
raised concerns about the substantial minority of individuals
taking up post doctoral research positions who go on to become
career contract researchers. On 17 November 2000, the Institute
held a forum to discuss the situation of physics post doctoral
staff in light of the recommendations of the Research Careers
Initiative Committee, the Institute's post doctoral report and
the concerns regarding the career development prospects for young
researchers featured in the White Paper. A report of this meeting
is available. It was clear from the discussions in November that
many of the policy concerns associated with contract research
10. The Institute wholeheartedly concurs
with the statement in the White Paper (chapter 1, paragraph 23),
that the UK is involved in a global competition for talent and
that world class scientific facilities are essential. Thus, the
Institute notes with concern that reports that remuneration top-ups
will only be available to a small fraction of the research community.
The Institute applauds the steps taken to prevent the best researchers
from leaving the UK, but urges that the money should be more widespread,
as this will not be sufficient to prevent young qualified researchers
seeking opportunities overseas.
11. The Institute is deeply concerned that
the increasing numbers of talented physicists moving into newly
emergent sectors are resulting in public sectors finding it increasingly
difficult to recruit appropriate staff. The flow of highly qualified
workers into emergent high technology sectors is a national strength
and must be encouraged, but the shortage elsewhere requires short
and long-term solutions and policy planning. In this context the
Institute welcomes the Government's plans to attract more overseas
scientists and engineers (chapter 2, paragraph 39) to the UK,
but in the long-term a sustainable solution is needed that does
not rely upon the recruitment of scientists trained at the expense
of developing countries. Our national difficulties are severe
and immediate. The US is responding to similar pressures. Not
only will we be competing for the same pool, many of the talented
individuals sought for the US are currently pursuing careers in
12. The Institute wholeheartedly agrees
with the statement that Britain must enhance the excellence of
its science base (chapter 2, paragraph 1) and as a direct consequence,
needs better and more appealing science in its schools (chapter
2, paragraphs 4 and 5). At present far too many children moving
to secondary school appear to lose interest in science. The number
of women on undergraduate physics courses is only a quarter of
the number of men. This is wasted potential and more must be done
to encourage girls at a younger age to adopt an interest in the
13. The Institute concurs totally with the
statement (chapter 2, paragraph 11) that excellent teachers are
the key to exciting science in schools, but that too many teachers
do not have degrees in the subjects they teach. More needs to
be done to attract the best physical science graduates into teaching.
The Institute is deeply concerned about the decline in physicists
entering teaching and is pleased with the White Paper's recognition
of the problems of recruitment and retention of specialist teachers.
There is a crisis in physics teacher supply, there are indications
of yet a further drop in entrants to PGCE courses and the major
impetus towards a solution to this crisis must come from Government.
Extra funding is undoubtedly required, especially for mid-career
salaries, but some other actions would be possible. The attached
table outlines a strategy to encourage recruitment in the physical
sciences. If the Committee has any questions concerning the measures
proposed, please do not hesitate to contact the Institute.
14. The Institute agrees that public support
and understanding (chapter 4, paragraph 31) are key components
of the process of innovation. The relationship between science
and society requires three communitiesscientists, the Government
and the wider publicto interact together on a basis of
mutual understanding. Recent events such as BSE and GM foods have
illustrated shortcomings in this interaction. Therefore, the Institute
warmly welcomes the White Paper's reference to restoring public
confidence in science (chapter 1, paragraph 37), by the Government
implementing stronger guidelines from the Chief Scientific Adviser
(CSA) on how scientific advice should be used in developing Government
policy and by publishing a new code of practice for scientific
advisers to Government; a consultation to which the Institute
will forward its response in due course.
15. With regard to diversity of excellence
in universities (chapter 3, paragraph 6) and the proposals on
foundation degrees (chapter 3, paragraph 21), the Institute is
conducting an in-depth inquiry into undergraduate physics, chaired
by the Institute's President, Sir Peter Williams, which will cover
these and other issues. The Inquiry is expected to report in the
Summer of 2001.
16. The Institute welcomes the Government's
intention to clarify CLRC's mission statement and funding arrangements
(chapter 2, paragraph 18). The Institute recently expressed its
concerns that the financing mechanisms operated by the CLRC were
not an effective use of resources nor matched other research council's
priorities. The Institute hopes that there will be a re-assessment
of the funding base, and looks forward to hearing more of the
outcomes following the recent quinquennial review, chaired by
the current President of the Institute, Sir Peter Williams.
17. The Institute notes the view (chapter
3, paragraph 26), that there are significant differences between
different regions, calling for different approaches. The Institute
believes the recent North West Science Review has been a valuable
exercise, given the difficulties faced by Daresbury Laboratory.
It is the clearest example so far of explicitly regional considerations
in DTI's science funding. However, if the Science Budget is to
reflect regional considerations in future then an open policy
debate should be conducted. The Institute remains committed to
the principle of funding solely on the basis of "best science".
18. In response to the Scottish Science
Strategy (chapter 3,) it should be noted that the Scottish Branch
of the Institute is actively engaged in dialogue with the Scottish
Executive. Similar advice is offered by the Welsh and Irish regional
groupings to the regional assemblies and governments.
19. (Box page 26) The Institute has been
an enthusiastic supporter of NESTA and welcomes the contributions
it has made to science and physics in particular. The Institute
trusts that NESTA will continue to increase its visibility and
20. In conclusion, the White Paper describes
the complex innovation landscape of the UK and the future of the
UK as a high-value-added economy. There is repeated and appropriate,
emphasis on entrepreneurship and small businesses. Government
must not lose sight of the needs of Britain's high-value-added
major industries. Prominent in these areas are defence/aerospace
and pharmaceuticals. There is much prominence given to underpinning
Britain's research strengths in the life sciences. This is deserved.
What is lacking is a visible concern for the needs of Britain's
high-value-added large businesses founded in the physical sciences
such as AEA Technology, UKAEA Fusion, Nortel Networks etc. The
DTI maintain support for such vital sectors of the national economy.
If the Institute is able to assist the Committee
further with its inquiry please do not hesitate to contact me.
15 January 2001
26 Science 291, (5501), p33, 5 January 2001. Back
International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy.
Chaired by Professor Alexander M Bradshaw. Institute of Physics