Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Office of Science and Technology


  1.  OST's Public Understanding of Science, Engineering and Technology (PUSET) team's current objectives are to:

    —  demonstrate the relevance of science, engineering and technology (SET) to people's daily lives and its importance to the economy;

    —  generate interest in SET amongst young people in order to develop and encourage lifelong interest in these subjects and the consideration of science based careers;

    —  create as many opportunities as possible for people to learn about recent scientific developments and debate their value;

    —  ensure that there is dialogue between the scientific community and the public, particularly on issues which raise profound ethical and social issues; and

    —  raise the general level of technical literacy so that the public are in a better position to play a more informed role in this dialogue. Equally important is to enhance the scientific community's understanding of the public's interest in and legitimate concerns about SET.


 (a)   What are the resources (staff and budget) allocated to the PUSET unit

  OST's Public Understanding of Science, Engineering and Technology (PUSET) team has a staff of two and an annual programme budget of £1.25 million from which it provides grants to a number of organisations and initiatives to support its objectives.

 (b)   What contribution the PUSET unit makes to (i) COPUS and (ii) the BA

(i)  COPUS

  OST does not make a direct financial contribution to Copus, but OST pays Copus to run a grant scheme on its behalf.

  In 2001-02: OST funding to Copus was £272,960 for a small grants scheme to support science communication activities in the UK (this sum includes an allocation of £42,860 for administration of the scheme). Priority was given to grants for dialogue, Science Year and collaborative projects. The three elements of the scheme are:

    —  Seed grants, up to £3,000.

    —  Science week grants, up to £3,000.

    —  Development grants, up to £20,000.

  In addition to OST's parliamentary grant in aid to the Royal Society includes provision for the Royal Society's own support for Copus and its grants scheme.

(ii)  OST Support for the BA

  Within the multiplicity of bodies now involved in public engagement, understanding: awareness and appreciation of science, the British Association (BA) is the only nationwide membership organisation wholly devoted to this area. OST provides funding to provide core support towards the fixed costs of the BA underpinning all aspects of its work, and the central costs for development and delivery of National Science Week.

  OST works closely with the BA and has provided it with core support since 1996-97, as well as ad hoc support for specific projects and activities. OST provides a significant contribution to the BA's core funding (just under one quarter of its overall income), and support for a number of BA initiatives. OST has now combined the core and ad hoc support into a single grant. In 2001-02, OST provided £590,000 funding for the BA. In 2002-03, the OST grant will be £542,000.

 (c)   What other projects the unit funds

  Most of these projects came to an end in March 2002. We are not awarding new grants until our internal review has been completed.

  1.  Scottish Science Trust (1999-2002): £110,000 to contribute to the core funding of the Scottish Science Trust (the over-arching body for public understanding of science, engineering, technology and medicine in Scotland). The specific aim of the grant is to enable the Trust to assist with the development of an overall operating strategy for revenue funding for Scottish science centres.

  2.  National Respect Campaign (2000-02): £100,000 for a campaign, run by the African Caribbean Network for Science and Technology, to highlight to black youngsters the educational and career opportunities available in science, engineering and technology. Key features will be a poster campaign using role models, careers information, and a number of national launch events.

  3.  Y Touring (1999-2002): £285,000 to support Creating the Debate for the New Millennium. This project, supported in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, addresses biomedical issues through theatre and drama. Plays focusing on xenotransplantation, mental health, genetic testing and therapeutic cloning have been performed around the country, with actors stating "in character" after the performance and taking part in a discussion with the audience. Some of the plays have reached a wider audience through television broadcast.

  4.  Vega Science Trust (1999-2002): core funding of £240,000 to enable Vega to develop into a major force in promoting high quality science broadcasting.

  5.  Public dialogue (2001-02): £4,700 from OST as a contribution to a joint study with six of the UK Research Councils. This project will provide practical guidelines for developing public dialogue activities.

  6.  ECSITE-UK (2001-04): £150,000 to the UK science and discovery centre network (hosted by the BA). OST is funding the development of this network, which aims to act as a single point of contact for science centres and facilitate collaboration and effective use of resources.

 (d)   Whether it carries out PUS activities directly

  The only activities that the PUSET team carries out directly are events for DTI staff during science week.

June 2002

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