Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Royal Institution of Great Britain

   Further to your invitation of 13 February 2002, the Royal Institution (Ri) is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the inquiry and would like to make the following comments. The statement first outlines Ri activities, and then describes its main areas of interaction with the Royal Society (RS).


(a)   General funding

  The Ri does not receive any direct government funding for its activities: they are underpinned predominantly by investment income, charitable donations and sponsorship.

(b)   Science communication

  The Ri was inaugurated over 200 years ago to "diffuse science for the common purposes of life". Past perceptions of the Ri as an elitist club has impeded its potential to communicate science. However, over the last three years the Ri has reinterpreted its initial vision to meet the challenges of the 21st Century as witnessed by: an increased number of, and attendance at, events; increased membership; a strong web presence; improvements in promotional material; and the development of the Science Media Centre. A copy of the Spring 2002 Programme is enclosed for your information to show the range and scope of the current activities. Approximately 20,000 people per annum attend these events. Feedback forms at events indicate that the vast majority of the audience attending events are not experts in the field under discussion. See also

(c)   Young Persons' Programme

  The Ri provides an extensive Young Persons Programme (YPP), which includes the Maths Master Classes (both Primary and Secondary streams), Events for Schools (schools lectures for Primary, Secondary and post-16 years) and the Christmas Lectures. Over 43,000 young people per annum attend these events. Copies of the Spring YPP programme of events are enclosed for your information. See also The Events for Schools component is partly funded by a grant from the Royal Society (£94,000 per annum), which the Ri understands comes from the Society's OST allocation. The grant represents a fifth of the overall YPP budget and the main bulk of the programme's expenditure is underpinned predominantly by investment income, charitable donations and sponsorship.

(d)   Science research

  The Davy Faraday Research Laboratory at the Ri—the oldest continuously operating research laboratory in the world—undertakes a wide ranging programme of research into new materials with tailored applications in catalysis, electronics and energy technologies. Jointly with the Department of Chemistry at University College London, it was awarded a 5* grade in the recent Research Assessment Exercise. It receives funding through HEFCE, grants from EPSRC and the EEU, private research contracts and endowment income. The Ri general revenue budget underwrites any shortfall in DFRL activities.

(e)   Heritage and arts-science programmes

  The Ri houses a museum, an extensive archive and possesses a collection of science equipment, artefacts and pictures of national significance. The Museum is open to the public but much of the collections are inaccessible except under supervised conditions. A major HLF bid is being prepared coupled with a partnership fund raising initiative to address these constraints.


(a)   Events for Schools

  As stated above, the Events for Schools programme is partly funded by the RS. We acknowledge the financial support of the RS on all the promotional material. The RS is aware that we would like to expand this programme, and that we hope their commitment could extend beyond a purely financial basis to a relationship involving continual professional support from their educational team.

  The RS are well disposed to this suggestion and discussions are therefore underway for a joint development and significant expansion of the programme. The nature of the expansion has yet to be discussed fully, but we would assume that to realise the full potential of the project, the Ri and RS would need to make a bid for a larger contribution from the OST science communication budget.

  A drawback of the current system is the constraint against long-term planning and stability of the scheme, placed by the annual requirement of applying de novo for funds. We would welcome a more secure funding arrangement in place for such an important and well-established activity. Our ideal scenario would be to have a commitment from the RS to provide funds for a five- or even 10-year period. If this were unacceptable to the RS, the feasibility of a direct payment to the Ri could be explored.

(b)   General science communication

  Science is now communicated UK-wide in many cities, by many different organisations, using a wide range of formats: hands-on exhibits at science centres and museums, national festivals, evening events for the public and public consultation exercises. Clearly, no single organisation could have a monopoly on science communication in these various forms, and nor would they want to. However, more extensive co-ordination could maximise benefits not just to the science communication organisations themselves, but to the nation at large.

  This co-ordination could take the form of an annual or twice yearly forum of the science communication organisations to exchange information and ideas, and discuss activity and strategies; and/or funds invested in a website acting as a bulletin board.

  It is not immediately obvious what the most cost-effective way would be to achieve the degree of co-ordination required. Since it is already in place, COPUS could take up this challenge, but alternative ideas should also be explored.

(c)   Note

  The Ri is not in a position to comment upon whether the funds given to the RS or the Royal Academy of Engineering represent good value for money.

April 2002

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