Select Committee on Science and Technology Fifth Report



7. The Royal Society was founded by a group of scientists on 28 November 1660 following a lecture by Christopher Wren, the Gresham Professor of Astronomy, in London. The intention of these founders was to create "a College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning".[6] At first the Society merely met weekly for lectures. In 1663 it was granted its first Royal Charter as "the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge", still its official title. It has been in existence ever since, which makes it the oldest scientific society in continuous existence in the world. Since the 1660s it has published scientific books and articles; its journal "Philosophical Transactions" has been produced since 1665. It has at present around 1,300 Fellows, electing a maximum of 42 a year: accession to the Fellowship is through nomination and election. In 1847, the Society decided to restrict election to those who worked in academic scientific research, rather than interested amateurs. In 1850, the Society received its first government grant.


8. The work of the Society has expanded over the years and it now has a permanent staff of over 120. The objectives of the Royal Society are to:

The Royal Society spends the majority of its funds (two thirds of its parliamentary grant-in-aid) on its research awards, from University Research Fellowships - given to researchers early in their careers - to professorships. It also funds International Fellowships, aimed at attracting academics from abroad and allowing UK academics to travel. The Royal Society seeks to influence the teaching of science in schools and is involved in the public communication of science, through its educational programme, advisory work, the Science in Society programme and its support for Copus. Its third main area of work is in providing independent scientific advice to Government. One of the most recent examples of this its inquiry into infectious diseases in livestock.[8] The Royal Society also functions as a forum for the discussion of science; it holds regular meetings, publishes five journals and maintains an extensive library which is open to the public. Finally, there are 24 prizes awarded by the Royal Society, entirely funded by endowments, in recognition of scientific excellence.


9. Royal Society grant-in-aid - the government funding agreed by Parliament - is set out in the Science Budget from 2001-02 to 2003-04. These allocations were drawn up in 2000, after the last Comprehensive Spending Review. Expenditure for 2003-04 may change following the new Comprehensive Spending Review, announced on 15 July 2002. The new Science Budget allocations for 2003-04 to 2005-06 have not yet been published. OST specifies the main areas on which grant-in-aid is to be spent, but does not prescribe how it should be divided up between individual programmes.

Table 1: Royal Society funding as set out in the Science Budget 2001-02 to 2003-04

£ million








Source: The Science Budget 2001-02 - 2003-04

Table 2: The Royal Society: government-funded budget 2001-02


Grant-in-aid £000

Research Professors


University Research Fellowships


Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowships


Industry Fellowships


Research Grants


Merit Awards


International Fellowships and projects - developed world


International Fellowships and projects - developing world


International Conferences and grants


Relationships with international bodies


Science Communication and Education


Scientific Advice






External redecoration




Source: OST: HC 459-i, Ev 25-26


10. Parliamentary grant-in-aid, accounts for two thirds of the Royal Society's income. The Royal Society estimated that its total expenditure in 2001-02 would be £36.184 million of which £10.2 million was private funding.[9] The Royal Society could make more effort to attract private funding from appropriate sources. We urge the Royal Society to investigate more streams of funding, using its prestige and grant-in-aid as leverage.

Research grants and awards


11. The Royal Society runs ten research fellowship and direct support schemes in the UK. The seven supported at least in part by grant-in-aid are set out in Table 3 below. The three funded entirely with private money are set out in Table 4.

Table 3: Grants and schemes supported by the Royal Society's grant-in-aid 2001-02


Grant-in-aid funding £000


Private funding £000


University Research Fellowships






Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships





Industry Fellowships





Wolfson Foundation/OST Merit Awards





Research Professorships





Conference Grants





Research Grants





Source: The Royal Society[10]

Table 4: Grants and schemes supported by the Royal Society's private funding



Funding £000


Wolfson Refurbishment Grants


Funding for universities to refurbish research laboratories

Brian Mercer Innovation Awards


Seed corn funding to aid the commercialisation of scientific discoveries

Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowships


Funding to aid established academics to concentrate on full-time research for a period of time

Source: The Royal Society [11]


12. The different award schemes have different features:

  • Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships - salary and research expenses for up to four years. Flexible funding for career breaks. Part-time working. Childcare costs. Dorothy Hodgkin Fellows receive mentoring for research and career advice, media and communication training. They are marketed predominantly towards women; around 90% of awardees are female, compared to 20-24% of URFs.

  • Industry Fellowships - salary and collaborative costs to allow interchange between academic and industrial scientists for up to two years.

  • Wolfson Foundation/OST Merit Awards - help universities attract the most able scientists. Provides additional salary and research expenses for up to five years.

  • Research Professors - offers enhanced salaries and research expenses for 10-15 years.

  • Conference grants - individual awards of up to £1,500 for scientists to attend conferences, including a contribution towards childcare costs.

  • Research grants - seedcorn funding of up to £10,000 for blue skies research. Used particularly for high-risk innovative projects.


13. The Royal Society was hoping to obtain additional funding of £5,975,000 in the 2003-06 Comprehensive Spending Review in order to broaden some its work and introduce new schemes. It hopes to step up funding for URFs, research grants and Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships, as the number of applicants for these programmes is constantly increasing. (Under 25% of applicants are at present successful.) It would like to launch a "relocation award" to aid career mobility for women, whose research can often take second place to their partner's career. The scheme will cover research expenses and salary for up to two years at a new research institution. It would also like to step up its industry fellowship scheme. A new international fellowship programme with the US is about to begin and the Royal Society would like to run similar schemes in other countries with strong science. It would like to extend its regional programmes and increase the amount of science policy work it does in Europe.[12] It is as yet unclear whether the allocation for science in the Spending Review will mean the increase of funding for which the Royal Society had hoped.

Education and schools work

14. The partnerships grant scheme awards money to schools to enable them to work with scientists and engineers. The Acclaim Project at Sheffield Hallam University aims to raise young people's awareness of cutting edge scientific research. Work on the Acclaim Project is targeted at schools, including a television series "Living Science". A website aimed at 16 to 19 year-olds was launched in 2001.[13] We discuss the Royal Society's public communication work in paragraph 49.

International representation

15. Science is an international activity. The Royal Society has played a significant role in representing UK science for over a century. The International Council for Science (ICSU) was founded in 1900 by the Royal Society, the French Académie des Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences. In 1920, the subscription to the ICSU was incorporated into the Royal Society's grant-in-aid, along with subscriptions to other international bodies. The ICSU is an organisation set up to further international co-operation and to promote international science and has been appointed the scientific organising partner of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002 by the United Nations. There are also a number of International Scientific Unions representing different scientific disciplines which are affiliated to the ICSU. Until recently the Royal Society has been responsible for representing the UK, including payment of the annual subscriptions from its grant­in­aid. The Royal Society told us "over the last four years, we have been reviewing our membership of the 38 affiliated scientific unions, as a result, have withdrawn from two and have passed on responsibility for membership of 17 other discipline-based unions to the relevant UK learned societies, although we continue to pay 49% of the subscriptions".[14]

16. The Royal Society will receive £280,000 in 2002-03 for 36 international subscriptions. The Institute of Biology mentions this funding: "We spend nearly £20,000 per annum on [international representation] but note that the Royal Society received direct government funding to enable to it undertake such representation on behalf of the nation".[15] The learned societies who have taken over responsibility for representing the UK pay their share of the subscription, which by 2004 will amount to 51%, from their own funds, with the Royal Society continuing to pay the balance. The Royal Society tells us that the "small savings [it has made] have been used to support other international activities."[16] We consider that those learned societies who have accepted responsibility for the membership of these international discipline-based unions should have their proportion of the UK subscription met from OST funds, just as the Royal Society's share is paid from its grant­in­aid.

6 Back

7   See volume II, appendix 37 Back

8   Ibid. Back

9   See volume II, appendix 37 Back

10   Ibid. Back

11   See volume II, appendix 37 Back

12   See volume II, appendix 37 Back

13   Http://  Back

14   See volume II, appendix 37 Back

15   Ibid. Back

16   See volume II, appendix 40 Back

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