Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



Bob Spink

  20. But you relaunched a fund raising campaign in 1998, you recall that?
  (Mr Cox) I know it happened, yes, called Project Science.

  21. You are now raising about a third of your funds from public sources whereas the other areas get better leverage. Engineering, for instance, get two for one. For every pound of OST money they get two pounds of public funds in. Are you happy with your success rate of one-third at the moment? Do you think that can be improved? Do you think that the two for one leverage that the engineers achieve is a viable target for yourselves and is that a target that you would like to adopt?
  (Mr Cox) I have got the figure here that the current leverage is for every two pounds that the Government gives us we raise one pound, so it is also two for one but the other way around. However, in addition we looked at leverage and we looked at the way we lever money through various mechanisms and the details are in the document. Currently, according to our records, we leverage five pounds for every pound that the Government gives us. The reason we relaunched our fundraising efforts was because we did indeed want to raise more money from private sources. You will see that the amount of money we now get from Government as a proportion of our total budget is less than it was and we feel that is a good thing. As the President has already said, there is always a danger of having too much money from one particular source so we have tried to ensure that the sources of money we are able to tap into are varied so it is our own resources, we earn money ourselves, particularly from our publications, we raise money from trusts and foundations. We are very fortunate in having been around for a long time so we have an endowment which is topped up from time to time by bequests from fellows and we have a government grant. All those things are elements of the total funding package. The document has tried to bring together all those because we deliberately wanted to give you a picture of not just the government funding and the work that does but of the total funding of the Royal Society and the work that the total funding produces. It is a mixed package. There was no particular reason for 1998, it was a time when we said we need to relaunch our fund raising campaign that had been going on for a number of years and we will probably relaunch it again in the not too distant future.
  (Lord May of Oxford) May I suggest that Julia might wish to say something. Julia, like our Treasurer, is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and of the Royal Society.
  (Professor Higgins) I think you have to look at what we are spending the money on. On some of the things we are spending the money on there is no realistic hope that we are going to provide double that for what we are doing. Other sources are not going to fund our university research fellows. We have a number of specific scholarships for those but there is not a source of funds that is going to double that particular income.

  22. Is that because the engineers are a nearer market?
  (Professor Higgins) No, they are funding a very, very small number of fellows compared with the number we are funding.
  (Lord May of Oxford) I would like to say one more thing in this context. In looking at the learned societies you need to recognise you are looking at a real mixture of apples, oranges and other fruit and I would really caution you against making too simple analogies among them. This is something the Brits are very good at. There are a lot of things Brits are pretty poor at but this is one thing Brits are pretty good at. Some of them are essentially professional associations, so the Institute of Physics and the British Ecological Society are roughly comparable. The Royal Academy of Engineering is a wonderful thing but it does not invite too simplistic a comparison with the Royal Society. In fact, the comparison is much less one to one than the US National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. For example, one of our ten sectional committees is engineering and some of the others touch on engineering so it is not surprising that a tenth of our fellows are also fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering. On the other hand, it does elect 60 people to our 40 people each year from a smaller area and thus it does a very exciting different sort of thing in that it brings together much more industry and the outside world whereas, for all the applied and general candidates as I said, we are somewhat more emphasising the fundamentals of science across the entire spectrum and in a synthesising interdisciplinary way rather than a fissive way. We are each wonderful in our different ways but they should not be too much compared one to one.


  23. Just before I ask Andrew Murrison to come in, in your operating costs do you have a strategy, a policy, using public and/or private in those? Do you just lump it altogether?
  (Mr Cox) No, we do not lump it altogether, that is how I know exactly how much we spend on administering the parliamentary grant and, therefore, what else is the balance. We are required by OST to account very precisely for the cost of the administering of the Parliamentary grant-in-aid and that is clearly identified in our submission and in our submissions to OST. I should say that is the full cost, there is nothing else. We are not a government body in any sense so we do not benefit from any pension contributions from elsewhere or any shared services or anything like that, that is the full cost of the administration of the parliamentary grant. The balance is, what we pay for from our private funds to run the Royal Society.

Dr Murrison

  24. Can I stick with money and just ask you about transparency. We all have websites these days, sometimes they are good things and sometimes they are not, I am sure you have one. I was just wondering whether your accounts are published on your website and, therefore, whether they are easily accessible to the general public?
  (Mr Cox) I would need to find out whether our accounts are published on the website. I do not know but I will give you an answer separately. Our accounts are published. They are fully audited in the normal way. They comply with all the requirements of accounting practice for charities. I do recommend you visit our website, it gets over two million hits a month which is a figure that completely staggers me, I do not know who these two million people are out there. I genuinely recommend that you do visit it because it contains a huge amount of information about the Royal Society, including all the rules and regulations that relate to us, a list of every single Fellow of the Royal Society, their contact details where they have allowed those to be put up, details of all our reports and all our activities. We use our website very extensively for encouraging applications for all our awards so you will be able to apply to us by getting the application forms from the website. It contains links to subsidiary websites which we have set up which include one on science communication and one on education. We actually give very high priority to our website.
  (Lord May of Oxford) We have a full-time website manager, which was part of the initiative we took in response to wanting to be more fully engaged with outside issues. We have also got all the contact details not just of the fellows but of all the university research fellows and younger people.
  (Mr Cox) I should add that our review of the year, which contains an extract from our accounts, is on the website and that gives you a rather better picture of the way we spend our money than the full accounts. The full accounts can be obtained from us if they are not on the website.

  25. I think you have probably answered my question. My question really had to do with transparency, whether any inquisitive members of the general public might be able to find out where you get your money from, particularly money from government sources, and where that money goes.
  (Mr Cox) That is very clear by looking at the bit of the review of the year of where our money comes from and where it goes to.
  (Lord May of Oxford) Not only can but do. It is not just the two million hits. Our recent reports have had more than 5,000 downloads, more substantial engagement.


  26. That could be the Sunday Times of course.
  (Lord May of Oxford) That is not 5,000. The two million hits are about a million in the UK and about a million outside the UK.

Dr Murrison

  27. I will carry on, if I may, with your accommodation which is really rather splendid, Carlton House Terrace. It is on a 99 year lease, I understand. What I would like to know is whether the Government is committed to paying the rent for the full term of that 99 year lease or not?
  (Mr Cox) Most recently before we were in Carlton House Terrace we were in Burlington House which was built for learned societies, primarily for the Royal Academy and the Royal Society. In the mid-1960s there was a wish by Government to use that in a slightly different way and also a wish by the Royal Society to be able to bring all its staff together in one place because we had outgrown Burlington House and provide greater facilities for the scientific community. Concurrently HMG had a property on Carlton House Terrace, which was formerly the German Embassy, which they offered back to the German Government when the Control Commission was wound up. The German Government declined the offer and went to Belgrave Square. They were looking around for other people to have these premises, which at that time were occupied by the Foreign Office. Then the Royal Society came into the picture and the agreement between the Royal Society and the Government was in exchange for us giving up our occupancy at Burlington House, which was for us, we would have the rent paid for the 99 year lease on Carlton House Terrace. The additional point is that Carlton House Terrace is not just for the Royal Society, 1,800 meetings a year are held at the Royal Society, we are a facility for the whole of the scientific community. There is additionally a wish to create a science and arts complex associated with Carlton House Terrace, so next door we have the British Academy, underneath we have the ICA, along the road we have the pathologists and materials and metals and, of course, in the middle we have the Turf Club which I suppose brings in the other elements of culture.


  28. The answer really is yes, the taxpayer is still picking up the tab.
  (Mr Cox) The answer is that the taxpayer agreed to pick up the tab. It is clear in our submission.

Dr Murrison

  29. I am a little bit concerned, you have mentioned all these other organisations, are you suggesting that the Government is essentially providing facilities for the admittedly very laudable outfits that you have described?
  (Mr Cox) No, I have no knowledge of that.
  (Lord May of Oxford) If we had managed this better, Charles II offered us what is now the site of the Royal Chelsea Hospital but the people at the time felt it was a bit out of town.

  The Committee suspended from 4.56 pm to 5.03 pm for a division in the House.

  30. Can I dwell on Carlton House Terrace for a little bit longer and particularly the internal redecoration of it. My understanding is that you have a new lobby. Can you assure the Committee that this has not been funded in any way by the Government?
  (Mr Cox) Yes.

  31. Can you tell me how it was funded?
  (Mr Cox) It was funded from the Royal Society's private resources.
  (Lord May of Oxford) May I just ask a follow-up to that. Would you feel that a university falling to bits through years of neglect and under-funding that refurbished part of itself would be out of order in doing so?

  32. I make no judgment, I merely asked the question. The final point on this is you clearly occupy prestigious, attractive premises in the middle of London, do you feel that it is an appropriate use of Government funds to be paying the rent for it or not?
  (Mr Cox) My straight answer is yes. The reason I say that is that the Royal Society is the UK Academy of Sciences, it represents the UK not only in an intellectual sense but in a physical sense as well. It is right, proper and appropriate that the Royal Society should have premises so that it can undertake this representational role. By analogy with countries elsewhere in the world where the premises of the academies are provided by the Governments of those countries, I think it is appropriate that the Royal Society should be housed in order that it can represent British science to the best of its ability.
  (Lord May of Oxford) If I may just briefly supplement that. I would say if you compared it to the French Academy or the US National Academy of Sciences or the Japanese Academy, it is not that grand. Speaking entirely personally, I would be happier in a place that was slightly less florid and a little bit more with a contemporary image, which is one of the reasons I am quite pleased that we have reconfigured the ground floor to give us more available space and a slightly less antique appearing lobby. I would simply say yes I am happy that public money goes into it because one of the things that remains good about Britain is we have not gone down the road to private affluence and public squalor. The Commonwealth Academy of Sciences should be as well housed as a decent business premise.


  33. Let me turn quickly to the research fellowships. We understand them because we have talked to you about them and we recognise the prestige associated with them and so on. The point could be made, could it not, that the Research Councils could actually fund these as well and, after all, the Research Councils have a lot of free labour as well? People review papers for nothing, they do not get paid for it, they spend a lot of time chairing meetings and all the rest of it, supervising students and all that stuff and assessing grants. Why should we not just give all the money that you put into the research fellowships into the Research Councils and let them carry on with their post-doctoral fellowship schemes?
  (Lord May of Oxford) Firstly, they do do that, of course, they do have their own post-doctoral schemes. Each of them in separate ways have them and they fund quite a large amount of post-doctoral schemes. The reason we have this is simply that precise, long-term, up to 10 years renewable and freedom to do what you like where you like, based more on a proposal for a broad programme than a detailed specific thing, sometimes even in response to some directed programme of research, and not confined by particular disciplinary boundaries so that we can easily support somebody who falls between two boundaries is seen to work well.

  34. The Research Councils could do that, there is nothing to stop them doing that.
  (Professor Higgins) I have had experience of both, Chairman. Could I draw an analogy because I think it is very interesting. If you look at the university research fellows of the Royal Society, they form a cohort and they are invited to the Royal Society, they are involved in the activities of the Royal Society, there is a support mechanism for them. To my knowledge, and I have not seen anything like this, none of the Research Councils is either in a position to, nor does it, support those people in terms of developing their careers. They are there, they have the money, that is great, but then they are off on their own. What the Royal Society does, and does very well indeed, is provide a central environment to involve those young people in the development of science and that, to me, is the huge difference and that is why it is a different scheme from the Research Councils' scheme and very observedly different I think.

  35. Is that the major difference, do you think?
  (Professor Higgins) I think there are other, smaller differences. The major difference is that these people are part of a cohort which is demonstrably the best of British science and it is longer term than the Research Councils. None of the Research Councils will go beyond the five years that they initially fund, whereas the Royal Society has up to 10 years, so it makes it quite clear that this is the beginning of a career and allows the fellows to develop their careers into permanent careers.

  36. The Gareth Roberts' Report indicates the necessity of doing that too within Research Councils.
  (Professor Higgins) The Research Councils simply do not have the facility that we have for providing that broad support mechanism. In some ways I think it would be nice if we could provide it for the Research Councils' fellows as well. I think that is a group of people who need cherishing.
  (Lord May of Oxford) I would not under-estimate the added benefit of the fact that of course you can get round the boundaries between the Research Councils but the fact that this is just looking at the whole pool of people unencumbered by restrictions about the areas you are supposed to be commissioning research on.

Mr Harris

  37. I want to ask you very briefly about Copus, which I believe a year ago stopped being an acronym and became a word in its own right.
  (Lord May of Oxford) How unfortunate.

  38. What else has changed in the status? I am not quite sure what the Society's relationship is now with Copus.
  (Mr Cox) Copus was originally a partnership between three organisations: the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Institution and ourselves. We had a major review of it last year and we reconstituted the council of Copus so that it now includes a much wider range of organisations represented on the council. Previously the council comprised people from those three organisations. It has changed fundamentally in terms of the nature of the council. The major job that Copus does, and it does incredibly well, is it distributes small grants. Something like 400,00 a year is now being distributed by Copus in grants to support science communication.

  39. In terms of public understanding, is there not something of an overlap here? Is there an overlap between what the Society does and what Copus does? Is there not a way of streamlining it so that you do not overlap on the same subjects?
  (Lord May of Oxford) I would say that the answer is essentially no. The new initiative that the Society has launched, again with money provided by the Kohn Foundation in this instance, is the initiative on Science in Society which is related but rather different. Copus was basically, and still is, dialogue but it is more trying to focus in the widest possible sense on understanding what science is about whereas Science in Society is oriented to the scientists and citizens engaging in debates about values in which science itself as such has no particular voice. Copus, on the other hand, when it was created was in a sense the most important game in town, and still is, but over the 20 years that have elapsed since Copus' very success it has spawned lots and lots of other activity in public outreach in science. Personally I think that is great, I think it is a form of creative anarchy that if you travel elsewhere in Europe, to France, to Germany, to Scandinavian countries, to the United States, you do not see. Our Science Week and our British Association Festival Week in September are the envy of the world. There are thousands of individual anarchic events, many badged and funded by Copus, others spawned in the spirit of Copus. Yes, there is lots of overlap among them and I think that is a great problem to have.


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