Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-71)|
Wednesday 19 December 2001
60. I have got my thought back again. Do you
think we are strengthening the arm of those people who argue we
should make the break and have research universities and the rest?
(Ms Hewitt) It is not a matter on which I really feel
qualified to speak. I am enjoying hugely building up a much closer
relationship with the science departments in the universities,
and it is extremely exciting to see what is going on, both at
the basic science end and in terms of the work that is being done
in the science parks, the commercialisation, the knowledge transfer
and so on. But I am not responsible for the universities, the
higher education sector as a whole, and I really think that that
is an issue you need to take up with Estelle Morris and Margaret
61. Very tactful, if I may say so.
(Ms Hewitt) As always.
62. Secretary of State, you are in a very fortunate
position that you are the Cabinet Minister with responsibility
for science but also with responsibility for women. Women are
very under-represented in science, particularly in senior positions.
What can you do to improve the representation of women in both
science and also in engineering?
(Ms Hewitt) This is a source of real concern and some
frustration. Indeed, as the E-Commerce Minister it was very, very
striking to note that we have fewer women engaged in the information
technology industry than we had 20 years ago and we have gone
backwards. Across government we are making a real effort to engage
girls and young women, as well as older women, in the whole field
of science, engineering and technology. Within the schools, for
instance, we have already embarked on some very exciting pilot
projects around girls IT club, for instance, seeking to get them
interested. We are now producing a magazine once a term called
Spark. If you have not seen it, perhaps I can make some
copies available to the Committee. That is very exciting. It is
not a one-off exercise, it is a regular publication that is seeking
to make science, engineering and technology really attractive
and interesting to young girls and young women in particular.
A great deal of work has been done in the Department of Education
in terms of seeking to improve the quality of science teaching
within the schools, and part of the focus of that is on making
science more attractive to girls because we know if we do not
get them young and if they do not pursue science subjects at A-levels
they will not have the basic education to go into science or engineering
subjects at university. So we need to do all of that. We are then
looking at what more we can do, having increased the number of
girls doing scientific subjects at A-levelsand we are seeing
some real progress on that, particularly in chemistryto
get them into universities and technical vocational courses and
then using those qualifications in their subsequent careers. I
have been working, for instance, with the e-skills training organisation
on what more we can do using the women who are already working
within industry who have got science and engineering and technology
qualifications to act as role models for other women who might
be contemplating those careers. We are making some progress on
that. We have got a good collaboration between the NTO and industry
to work around that. There is a lot more, I think, that we need
to do and part of it involves pulling together what has separately
been done on science and on engineering. The more we can pull
that together and make this a single strategy and a single effort,
the more likely we are to get the results we want.
63. Where do you think the biggest problem arises?
Is it in the education system? Is that where young girls do not
get encouraged into engineeringit is not seen as the done
thing for young girls to get involved in engineering and science-type
subjects? Is it not about changing attitudes as well?
(Ms Hewitt) I completely agree. The fundamental problem
we have here is one of culture and attitudes. There is a general
perception that engineering, in particular, is old fashioned and
rather grubby. One business leader was quoting to me what I think
had been said by one of the teachers at his school which was "If
you are not very good at school you can go and work in a factory,"
and that attitude towards engineering and manufacturing is immensely
damaging and of course a travesty of what modern high tech manufacturing
and industry is all about. There is a particular subset, if you
like, of that general cultural problem which affects girls, where
engineering, science, computing, and technology generally, these
things are seen as male dominated, which they are. If you ask
girls about their perception of boys in computing particularly,
and science more generally, they will say it is for nerds, it
is not seen as attractive, it is not seen as interesting, and
it is seen as being about machines not about people. So in all
kinds of ways it particularly turns off girls and young women.
Since that does not match the reality of what is actually going
on in science and technology careers, we need to find all these
ways, as I have described, of actually bringing the image much
more into line with the reality. Part of what we need to do thereand
we are working on itis actually getting more teachers to
understand the reality of what is going on in modern science-based
industries and scientific and engineering-based careers because
quite often you have teachers who have themselves a very, very
out-of-date perception of what is going on. So closer links between
schools and business, which is something that Howard Davies is
looking at for us at the moment, is a very important part of the
64. What sort of targets do you set yourself
to achieve more women going into science and technology and achieving
senior positions, not just holding the junior posts? How can you
measure the success? It has got to run right through, start at
the schools, it has got to be universities, the number of women
who take science-based degrees, then through to industry?
(Ms Hewitt) What I think we need to doand this
is possibly something that should come out of the cross-cutting
review on scienceis we really need between ourselves and
the Department for Education to be setting targets and then putting
an effective strategy and the resources in place behind those
targets. As you say, those targets need to be at every level because
we need to get more girls doing the appropriate subject at GCSE
and A-level and on into further and higher education and then
into the jobs they do so they use those qualifications, and I
do not think we have got that right.
65. At this moment in time we do not have any
targets, it is just aspiration?
(Ms Hewitt) Yes.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) We have a target for
representation on the SET-related bodies. We want to get that
up to 40 per cent. It is not as bad as one might think. It is
35 per cent now and we want to get 40 per cent, but it is quite
variable across different Research Councils. That is a case where
we have got quite a precise target.
66. It is quite interesting that we make a big
fuss about not enough women being in Parliament, and indeed you
have only got to look at this Select Committee, I am the token
women here but having said that, science and technology is really
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) One of the other things
is we have got this new scheme of Science and Engineering Ambassadors
which is getting young people working in universities and industry
who will go back into schools to act as role models and do some
teaching and mentoring and talking to parents about science and
technology, and we have got big companies to buy into this, which
is very encouraging. I am very keen we should get that in all
schools across the country and that they should have that scheme.
That is an area where we can pick some of the very good young
women who are in university, science and industry and give them
a very prominent part in this scheme because it is role models
which I think are quite important here to girls, so that they
can see people where they can aspire to be in their position within
10 years. That is quite a good way to encourage this whole movement
and the role of women within that programme is something I have
very much a focus on.
67. I think that will be very useful. Secretary
of State, I am sure you will share the Equal Opportunities Commission's
concern about the number of female fellows of the Royal Society,
indeed the lack of female fellows.
(Ms Hewitt) I do share that concern and I think it
is just part of this broad issue that we have been discussing.
We can certainly help with that. As David has rightly said, we
have set a target for representation on the bodies that we ourselves
appoint. We have got, as John indicated earlier in relation to
the Research Councils, some excellent women scientists coming
through. We need to do more on that and we need to work with all
the bodies, including the Royal Society, on that.
68. Secretary of State, the Royal Society figures
in my own question. The Office of Science and Technology funds
some research through the Royal Society and the Royal Academy
of Engineering rather than through the Research Councils. What
is the rationale behind that? Is it historical, intentional or
a bit of both?
(Ms Hewitt) I am not sure that John and I really understand
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) There are two bits. Firstly,
there are the research fellows appointed by the Royal Society
and some of that money comes from government. I think that is
a rather good scheme. It is a good way of making certain that
the very bright young scientists selected by the Royal Society
do get a boost and I think that works as a whole very well. They
do also do some work which is on international relationships between
scientists and, again, I think that is quite effective in terms
of there are some cases where these things are much better done
scientist to scientist or Academy to Royal Society rather than
government getting into that particular loop. So it is really
doing a job for us which I think they do rather effectively.
69. Does the Department carry out any kind of
audit? How does the Department monitor the money that is spent
in this area?
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think we are very involved
in those two processes. Obviously you get a lot of feedback on
the international relationships. We take rather an interest in
the appointment of the fellows.
(Ms Hewitt) I think more broadly what we are seeking
to do is ensure that we keep in the United Kingdom more of our
brilliant young scientists and we attract more of the international
community of brilliant scientists into the United Kingdom. We
are showing rather good progress on that.
(Dr Taylor) We maintain a very careful level of scrutiny
of the way in which those two institutions spend the money, and
they make proposals to us in exactly the same way Research Councils
do for future proposals and they are part of the spending review
70. The Royal Society gets something like £26
million from OST and the Royal Academy gets £4.6 million.
Could you give us a simple memorandum explaining that it does
not all go to the fellows in the Royal Society because we are
rather interested in the Royal Society and these organisations,
how they function and whether we get value for money. It is not
always scrutinised by parliamentary committees, so we are interested.
(Dr Taylor) I would be very happy to send you a memorandum
with the details. 
71. Thank you very much. We have got to the
end of our questioning. I am sure everybody who has been here
is very grateful to you for being here. I think we can see lot
of common ground, a shared passion and enthusiasm and determination
to move things on. I am sure we will all be working together in
all the parts to make sure that does happen. We are doing the
Research Assessment Exercise, we are also interested in science
education from the ages of 14 to 19 which will bring in many of
the issues which have been raised today. It has been an exciting
session for us because you have shared your enthusiasm, ideas
and thinking with us and it will help us focus down on some of
the questions where we can penetrate into the portals and the
areas of the British establishment in science where others have
not dared! So I am looking forward to that very much. Thank you
very much for your time today. All the issues, I am sure, will
be addressed by this Committee.
(Ms Hewitt) Thank you Chairman.
1 See Ev. pp 22-28 Back