Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Royal Society

  As the UK academy of sciences, the Royal Society is clearly interested in NESTA's success in stimulating and supporting innovative science and creative interaction between science technology and the arts. We heartily approve of NESTA's commitment to investing in excellence in science and to helping talented individuals throughout the UK achieve their potential as well as encouraging individual scientists, inventors and artists to cross S, T & A boundaries. We are pleased to see that NESTA seeks to build bridges between creative people and society by encouraging public debate about developments in science, technology and the arts.

  We share many of these aspirations with NESTA eg the Society is fully in accord with the need to support individuals of high ability and commits a substantial proportion of its 35 million budget each year to fellowships for the brightest research workers in science, engineering and technology in the UK. We are also deeply engaged in consultation with the public through our science in society and science advisory programmes and our Public Programme involves joint activities with arts organisations.

  We were pleased that NESTA officials consulted us early in the life of the organisation and have kept in touch with us from time to time since then.

  Over the past year, we have been pleased to collaborate with NESTA and the DFES on a feasibility study for a science academy for gifted and talented young people, now nearing completion. The Society has also supported the NESTA-managed Science Year, with our President, Lord May, involved both in the opening ceremony and providing a key-note address in January to a Science Year audience of school children. The Society has also participated in the Science Year "kit-pot" initiative, under which hi-tech science equipment was sent free of charge to UK schools.

  We understand NESTA divides its operation into three areas—invention and innovation, fellowships and education and that it has made 200 awards in the past two years with a value of 15 million.

It seems to us that NESTA set itself a challenging target ie to become an important new force in stimulating highly creative work in science technology and the arts in a relatively short time and our impression is that it has done well in its first three years. Whilst NESTA itself may be unsung, by deliberate policy we understand, it has nevertheless supported a large number of original and creative projects and the omens are good for the future. The annual budget of 10 million per annum seems to have been well spent and there would appear to be evidence that any increase in its budget would be taken up by high quality candidates.

  Has NESTA helped science and technology? It claims to be willing to invest in innovative projects at an earlier stage than anyone else and therefore be prepared to take bigger risks than others. The fact that 26 patents have been filed and 20 new companies formed with the potential for creating wealth and jobs suggests that this policy is paying off. The mid to long term future of science and technology depends however on an investment in projects which capture the imagination of young people and cause them either to make a career in S&T or at least to be interested in its impact on society. Work in the education area seems to us to be imaginative and NESTA might find benefit in exploring links with others who like ourselves are active. Our Partnership Grants scheme, which enables practising scientists and engineers to undertake project work with schoolchildren, and our Acclaim project, which profiles distinguished scientists like Nobel Prize Winner Sir Paul Nurse and his young collaborators, offer possibilities for collaboration.

  The Society sees much to commend in the way Science Year has been managed. However, we very much hope that a thorough and independent evaluation of the Year's activities will be undertaken, and published, such that its successes and shortcomings can sensibly inform future initiatives of this kind.

  We also like the variety and nature of the awards made under the Invention and Innovation and Fellowships programmes. The new Dreamtime Fellowships are a welcome addition to the portfolio but we believe it will be difficult for scientists working at the cutting edge of research to take themselves away from the bench for prolonged periods of time—we therefore encourage NESTA to adopt a flexible approach to these fellowships to allow for part time involvement.

  We note NESTA's plans to invest more time and effort in the following in the future—

    —  finding new ways of identifying fellows;

    —  strengthening commercial expertise in order to develop invention projects;

    —  increasing its endowment;

    —  promoting innovative educational approaches focussing on design and technology for gifted children; PUS; web-based learning; and

    —  becoming an electronic pioneer.

and believe that developments in these areas are likely to be productive. We understand NESTA is keen to enter into new partnerships and the Royal Society will be delighted to discuss closer collaboration. We believe our Research Fellows, Officers and staff will be able to contribute ideas for future projects and nominate potential new fellows and we would welcome the opportunity to host NESTA events at the Royal Society. Some firm proposals are likely to be put to NESTA in the coming weeks.

28 June 2002


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