Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Special Report


Memorandum from the Department of Trade and Industry

CORUS plc - Research and Development (HC110)

1. The restructuring of Corus's Research and Development facilities is, of course, a commercial matter for Corus. The Government will, however, continue to assist in supporting the retention of a significant amount of R&D activity in the UK.

2. Corus's restructuring of its R&D facilities in the UK unfortunately involves job losses in the UK. The Government's understanding of the rationale for this restructuring is that it is to avoid the inefficient duplication of research resources following the merger. Prior to the merger there were three R&D facilities in the UK and one in The Netherlands. Similar research was being carried out in each country. For example, both countries conducted research into steel packaging. Following the merger, there will be one R&D facility in each country of roughly equal size (approximately 400 staff each). Each operation will concentrate on those areas where the equipment and expertise of its personnel are best placed to deliver the most effective research effort for the company.

3. Although no final decision has been made, we understand that Corus are giving serious consideration to locating their UK research centre at a new Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield, which is being established by the Regional Development Authority, Yorkshire Forward (this is referred to in the latest DTI White Paper). The DTI has already been involved in discussions about the possible location of a steel research facility on this site. Further discussions are due to take place soon which will involve Corus and Yorkshire Forward. Whatever Corus's final decision about where to site its R&D centre, the DTI stands ready to assist Corus, both by providing advice and by pursing policies designed to assist Corus in increasing its competitiveness by maintaining a significant level of its R&D effort in the UK.

4. The Committee also expressed concern about the current state of physical science teaching in the UK. OFSTED reports that science teaching at ages 11- 16 is satisfactory in 9/10 lessons and good or very good in 6/10. To build on this strong position, the Government is actively supporting teachers to become reflective practitioners who seek and adopt new teaching strategies and approaches to raise standards in the classroom. The science strand of the Key Stage 3 strategy, which will roll out nationally from September 2002, will provide focussed professional development for all key stage 3 science teachers in both pedagogical and subject knowledge. In addition, we are investing £92 million to further strengthen professional development opportunities for serving teachers.

5. Science Year will be launched in September 2001. It will be targeted at 10-19 year olds and those who influence them, including teachers. It will aim to increase young people's engagement with science which we hope will lead to increased numbers of pupils studying science to a higher level.

6. Claims that standards at A level are falling are made every year but are not supported by evidence. The 1996 SCAA/OFSTED report on exam standards over time, and subsequent follow up reports (for the years 1996 and 1997), demonstrate that standards at A level have been maintained for at least 20 years. The new A level specifications that were introduced in September 2000 take account of the recommendations in all the standards over time reports. Better pass rates are down to students working harder, better teaching and clearer information from the exam boards.

7. Public confidence in academic standards requires public understanding of the achievements represented by Higher Education qualifications. The National Framework of Qualifications for England, Wales and Northern Ireland recently published by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) sets out 5 levels of HE qualification - 3 at undergraduate level (Certificate, Intermediate and Honours) and 2 at postgraduate level (Masters and Doctoral). For each level of the framework there is a descriptor exemplifying the characteristics of the main qualification at that level. Subject benchmarking statements are being developed by QAA in partnership with the academic community. The statements set out the general expectations about standards for award of an honours degree in a subject, and where appropriate, include details of professional body requirements. The subject benchmark statement for Physics is due to be published later this year.

8. Universities are independent, autonomous bodies responsible for determining their own academic and administrative arrangements. It is up to institutions to work together with industry bodies to ensure that qualifications match the demands of industry. The Government is very keen to encourage this collaborative working. Hence the funding made available through the Higher Education Reach out to Business and the Community (HEROBC) Fund and the recently established Higher Education Innovation Fund to increase the capacity of institutions to respond to the needs of industry.

Department of Trade and Industry/Department for Education and Employment

26 March 2001

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