Select Committee on Science and Technology Fifth Report


Private funding

1.  We urge the Royal Society to investigate more streams of funding, using its prestige and grant-in-aid as leverage (paragraph 10).

International representation

2.  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 (paragraph 16).


3.  The majority of learned societies were happy to remain largely privately funded, fearing that government funding might interfere with their independence (paragraph 28).

4.  We do not think that receipt of government funds compromises the independence of those societies which benefit from it (paragraph 28).

Equity of funding

5.  The relative age of institutions does not seem a sensible basis for determining their funding. Funding should reflect the work they do (paragraph 29).

6.  Government should provide a central fund to which learned societies could bid, but they would need to be prepared to submit financial plans and be aware that such funding would require demonstrable outcomes and accountability (paragraph 31).

7.  The present funding of scientific learned societies appears to be haphazard rather than the product of strategic thinking on the part of the OST. The Government must consider how funding could be distributed more effectively and rationally (paragraph 32).

Research fellowships and awards: features

8.  We suggest that the Research Councils should consider introducing into their research fellowships those features of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering's awards which are seen as praiseworthy, such as extending their fellowships beyond five years on a regular basis and being willing to fund more 'blue skies' thinking. It would also be of benefit if they were to develop a mentoring scheme to support research fellows (paragraph 36).

9.  We call upon the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to consult academics other than their own Fellows during the peer review process, where there is not sufficient expertise within their own bodies (paragraph 38).

10.  We urge the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Research Councils to ensure that all their research fellowships and other awards contain 'family friendly' features (paragraph 39).

Research fellowships and awards: representation

11.  We recommend that all awarding bodies make an effort to publicise those aspects of their awards which may appeal to female researchers, in an attempt to increase the numbers of female applicants for all research awards. They should undertake a reassessment of selection procedures, in order to identify possible obstacles to the success of female applicants (paragraph 40).

12.  We urge the Royal Society to encourage applications for its University Research Fellowships from all institutions (paragraph 41).

13.  The Royal Society must ensure that its research awards represent the whole scientific community, without undue weight in any one area (paragraph 42).

Research fellowships and awards: funding

14.  We would like to see more effort made by those awarding publicly-funded grants and awards to isolate administration costs in order to identify the cost efficiency of their schemes (paragraph 43).

15.  In our view, the government funding of grant and award programmes managed by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering should be maintained (paragraph 44).

Learned societies and research awards

16.  Most scientific learned societies do not have the administration capability or review processes in place to operate their own research awards. The effort required would divert them from their primary purpose, to serve their scientific communities through support for the discipline and the dissemination of knowledge (paragraph 46).

British Association

17.  We are not clear why some of the British Association's government funding is routed through the Royal Society. We recommend that, in the interests of clarity, the OST should give funding directly to the British Association (paragraph 52).

Public communication work: learned societies

18.   Those learned societies which carry out public communication work are to be commended for what they undertake with such limited funding (paragraph 54).


19.   The Copus episode is revealing of a gulf in perception [between the Royal Society and outsiders] (paragraph 62).

20.  A strategic body is badly needed in the field of public communication of science. Copus, if reformed as has been suggested by Lord Sainsbury, the Jamieson Report and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, would serve this purpose admirably. We call on the OST to make every effort to ensure that this happens (paragraph 62).

21.  We believe that Copus should be made entirely independent of the Royal Society, the Royal Institution and the British Association, receive its funding directly from OST and that it should find new premises as soon as possible (paragraph 62).

Public communication work: funding and strategy

22.  We believe that the system of grants to learned societies for their public understanding work should be formalised, in order both to monitor better the total spending on public communication projects and to ensure that each society has an opportunity to benefit from these funds. We recommend that OST create a central fund for public understanding work administered by a single organisation, to which learned societies could bid for funding for specific projects (paragraph 63).

23.  We recommend that OST, or a body set up to co-ordinate public communication work, assess the work carried out by those to whom the Government gives funding, to identify the success stories and the outright failures, and to apply the lessons learned to future activities (paragraph 64).

Scientific advice to Government: learned societies

24.  Government departments make regrettably little use of the expertise of the learned societies, despite repeated offers of assistance from those organisations. We recommend that the Government consider using learned societies instead of commercial consultancies if they could carry out research in the same areas (paragraph 68).

25.  We repeat the recommendation made in our predecessor Committee's Report on the Scientific Advisory System that Government look more towards the learned societies when soliciting expert scientific advice. We think it right that all learned societies have equal opportunity to provide that advice and that there be financial compensation for those who produce substantial and extensive pieces of advice. Learned societies should be able to bid for funding to provide scientific advice work they feel competent to do (paragraph 69).

Scientific advice to Government: the Royal Society

26.  We believe that the Royal Society's confidence in its all-round expertise may be misplaced. We urge the Royal Society to consider carefully when producing policy and advice whether it really has adequate in-house expertise in all fields of scientific knowledge, and to consult other learned societies as a matter of course (paragraph 70).

Accommodation: the Royal Society

27.  We acknowledge that the Royal Society's premises in Carlton House Terrace provide facilities for other learned societies. Given that these societies may not have prestigious offices of their own or large budgets, we hope that the Royal Society will provide these facilities at cost price to learned societies (paragraph 72).

28.  As the UK's 'academy of sciences', the Royal Society should have a prestigious site in the centre of London and we believe that government funding is appropriate (paragraph 73).

Accommodation: Burlington House

29.  We would like to see all Burlington House societies acknowledge that subsidised accommodation constitutes a form of government funding (paragraph 77).

30.  We do not intend to comment on the Burlington House agreement, since it is subject to legal dispute. The Burlington House societies benefit from a historical agreement and it is by chance that this is with the Government and not some private organisation. Certainly withdrawing the arrangement would impact on the good work that the Burlington House societies are able to do. This would be a net loss for science (paragraph 78).

Selection of Fellows

31.  The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering should ensure that their selection procedures are fair and transparent, so as to ensure good representation in their Fellowships and confidence that they are not an 'old boys' network' (paragraph 86).

The Fellowship: gender

32.  We do not think that the present low level of female Fellows in the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering represents any discrimination against women. We urge both bodies to extend their efforts to encourage women to continue with scientific research and engineering careers (paragraph 89).

The Fellowship: ethnicity

33.   We are concerned at the Royal Society's apparent confusion between ethnicity and nationality. It would appear to demonstrate a lack of awareness of the need to ensure that scientists from ethnic minorities are not excluded from organisations such as the Royal Society, and suggests a head in the sand attitude to the current political climate (paragraph 90).

34.  We understand from the Commission for Racial Equality that it is against good practice not to carry out ethnic monitoring at all levels, and as the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering are in receipt of public funds, they are laying themselves open to criticism if they continue not to monitor the ethnicity of their Fellows (paragraph 90).

35.  The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering should think strategically about programmes to increase ethnic minority participation in science (paragraph 91).

The Fellowship: institutions

36.  We commend the Royal Society's effort to encourage Fellowship nominations from under-represented institutions but urge it to guard against unquestioning complacency that the "Golden Triangle" really holds all the best academics in the UK (paragraph 92).

The Fellowship: disciplines

37.  We are glad to note that the Royal Society is making positive efforts to improve representation across its Fellowship. We believe however that more could be done in areas which have specific cause for concern. It would be a welcome signal of change if the Royal Society were to establish a committee specifically for computing science (paragraph 95).

38.  The Royal Academy of Engineering should represent engineers in all areas. Definitions of what constitutes engineering are changing and this should be taken into account when electing Fellows (paragraph 96).

39.  We commend the Royal Academy of Engineering for making efforts to increase the number of Fellows in under-represented areas, and urge it to ensure that it achieves representative levels of new disciplines in its Fellowship (paragraph 96).

Funding for the learned societies

40.  While it would be unrealistic to suggest that the Government fund the work of all scientific learned societies, we have suggested that a mechanism be established through which learned societies could have access to centralised government funding. We recommend that OST evaluate the work done by these societies with a view to identifying and funding some core activities (paragraph 98).

41.  Raising the profile of the scientific learned societies can only be a positive thing for the enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, science in the general public. Government should make every effort to assist (paragraph 99).

42.  We recommend that OST give thought to what it would like the learned societies it funds to achieve and how best to ensure this. Not enough attention has been paid to the publicly-funded activities of these bodies. OST should ensure that they are held properly accountable. Learned societies receive funds not just from the OST but also from other Departments. The Government needs to think strategically about the money it is giving out to learned societies through its various funding streams in the form of one-off grants and whether this money could be used more efficiently (paragraph 100).

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