Select Committee on Science and Technology Thirteenth Report


Conclusions and recommendations

Importance of science and technology for development

1.  Science and research can engender a culture of inquiry, openness and respect for evidence that can have positive spill-over effects on the wider community. Indeed, a scientific, or evidence-based, approach to policy making is an integral component of good governance. (Paragraph 15)

2.  In order to develop, every country requires access to, and the ability to utilise, scientific and technical knowledge. (Paragraph 16)

3.  We welcome the fact that the UK Government has now explicitly stated its commitment to the application of science, technology and research to international development. (Paragraph 18)

DFID Approach to Funding

Direct budgetary support

4.  DFID has not provided us with a satisfactory description of how its needs for science and technology advice are changing as a result of the increased use of direct budgetary support, or any convincing evidence that it has made a formal assessment of this. It is troubling that DFID have not considered the full ramifications of this significant policy shift. We recommend that it does so. We regard scientific and technological capability as an important part of good governance. It should therefore be a condition of budgetary support. (Paragraph 22)

5.  We are concerned that the ability of science, technology and research to contribute to progress towards the Millennium Development Goals is being hampered by the Poverty Reduction Strategy process, as currently implemented. (Paragraph 24)

6.  We conclude that DFID has given insufficient consideration to how best to help developing countries identify their requirements for scientific and technological advice and research, and how to ensure that science, technology and research are represented appropriately in developing countries' Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. Since Country Office staff are unlikely to have the full range of technical expertise or experience required to supply effective independent advice, DFID should work together with other donors to develop specific guidance on best practice in this area. (Paragraph 27)

7.  Sustainable capacity building is a slow process and investment is therefore needed now if developing countries are to have any chance of developing the necessary capabilities in science, technology and research in coming years. In view of the short-term perspective of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, there is a case for DFID, in collaboration with other major international donors, to develop capacity building strategies with each country. For those countries where national science, technology and research systems are so weak that capacity building will not make an impact for the foreseeable future, DFID needs to have a coherent and transparent strategy to help them identify their priorities in science, technology and research, and to ensure that these are appropriately represented in developing country Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. (Paragraph 29)

Short-term aid versus long-term capacity building

8.  We urge DFID to develop clear guidelines to inform decisions on the balance between short-, medium- and long-term aid provision, as well as clear country-specific policies with respect to this balance. (Paragraph 31)

Interpretation of the Millennium Development Goals

9.  We are pleased to hear DFID acknowledge the importance of science, technology and research for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, but we are not convinced that these words have been translated into policy or practice. We remain concerned that technology-intensive areas such as infrastructure, energy, water and sanitation are at risk of being neglected by DFID and other donors due to their omission from the headline Millennium Development Goals. (Paragraph 35)

Multilateral funding routes

10.  We fully agree with the Secretary of State that rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of funding channelled through different multilateral agencies is "a perfectly rational, sensible thing to do", and are therefore surprised that DFID is only now beginning to adopt such an approach. (Paragraph 37)

11.  It is not acceptable that 25% of DFID's funds have been potentially allocated to development programmes that are widely perceived to have been of dubious effectiveness. DFID has responsibility for ensuring that the multilateral routes through which UK aid is channelled represent good value for money for UK taxpayers. DFID's past failure to monitor its multilateral investments has been a hindrance to ensuring that this expenditure makes an effective contribution to meeting DFID's objectives. (Paragraph 39)

Public-private partnerships

12.  We support DFID's increasing emphasis on the role that public-private partnerships can play in facilitating research for development where costs would otherwise be prohibitively high, or there would be no incentive for private sector involvement, and where the benefits are clear for the developing country partners. (Paragraph 43)

Scientific and Technological Expertise in DFID

In-house expertise

13.  It is hard to understand how DFID can be content that it has adequate expertise in science and research when it is not monitoring the numbers of staff who have relevant qualifications or a background in research. This must change. We believe that the current levels of scientific and technical expertise are insufficient to ensure that DFID can behave as an intelligent customer for science, technology and research. There is a pressing need for DFID to increase the number of in-house staff with a research background, particularly in the natural sciences. (Paragraph 54)

14.  We conclude that DFID is failing to utilise key sources of scientific and technological knowledge. DFID needs to have a critical mass of in-house expertise to identify its own needs for science, technology and research and the most appropriate sources of such advice. DFID's increasing dependence on outsourcing of research management and the erosion of the cadre of scientific and technical staff mean that it is no longer in a good position to do so. (Paragraph 56)

15.  DFID would derive much benefit from the secondment of scientists into the Department and we recommend that it takes active steps to implement this practice, particularly in existing areas of weakness. (Paragraph 57)

Chief Scientific Adviser

16.  We welcome the announcement that DFID has finally decided to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser and are pleased that our work helped DFID to reach its decision. However, the review to establish a need for a Chief Scientific Adviser in DFID was superfluous in view of the stated Government policy. It also came far too late in the day. The fact that it took so long for DFID to accept the need for a Chief Scientific Adviser was in itself indicative of a weak scientific culture in DFID. (Paragraph 59)

17.  The DFID Chief Scientific Adviser should be a natural scientist with extensive development expertise. (Paragraph 61)

18.  In order for a DFID Chief Scientific Adviser to be effective, the position should be full time and a team of scientifically-literate support staff will be essential. If the Chief Scientific Adviser is not granted the necessary resources, or is not given a central role with seniority commensurate with the highest ranking Chief Scientific Advisers in other Departments, DFID's decision to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser will amount to little more than tokenism. (Paragraph 62)

Policy Division

19.  We support DFID's decision to adopt a cross-disciplinary approach within the Policy Division to address specific problems in developing countries. However, a significant proportion of DFID's partners, including many developing country governments, operate on a sectoral basis. DFID therefore needs to ensure that its partners have information about, and access to, the relevant contact points within the cross-disciplinary teams. (Paragraph 64)

20.  We are alarmed by the picture presented by the evaluation report of the Policy Division reorganisation and the evident weaknesses in DFID's attempts at change management. In view of the pace of change within the department, we sincerely hope that DFID has learned the lessons of this traumatic reorganisation. (Paragraph 65)

21.  The downgrading of the Chief Adviser positions has caused consternation in the development sciences community. We do not understand the rationale for this decision and take it as further evidence of DFID's urgent need for a Chief Scientific Adviser. We consider that it was ill-advised for DFID to undertake this additional reorganisation of the Policy Division prior to the completion of the review to determine whether to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser and consideration of what staff would be required to support him or her. (Paragraph 66)

22.  We can only surmise that research has not received the attention it merits in DFID in the past. We hope that this new arrangement will indeed be an improvement. DFID will also need to take care that separation of the Policy Division and Central Research Department does not impede the interaction between research and policy-making in DFID. (Paragraph 67)

Country Offices

23.  We are pleased that DFID now realises the importance of monitoring the scientific and technical qualifications of its Country Office staff. It is not before time: these staff play a central role in the Poverty Reduction Strategy process and the commissioning of country-specific research and policy analysis. It is a major failing that DFID has not put in place proper systems to ensure that Country Offices are staffed by people with the necessary background and expertise to support developing countries effectively, particularly in the light of the move towards the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper approach. We recommend that DFID establish minimum levels for the numbers of staff with appropriate scientific and technical qualifications in each country or, where appropriate, region. (Paragraph 70)

Knowledge management

24.  We appreciate that DFID considers the research that it commissions to be for the global good, but it should be axiomatic that such research will also be utilised for the development and refinement of DFID's own policies. (Paragraph 71)

25.  DFID needs to provide greater technical support to its Country Offices. (Paragraph 74)

26.  DFID and its clients are not getting the most out of the research it commissions due to the poor links between the Central Research Department and the Country Offices. We recommend that the Central Research Department work more closely with the Heads of Profession and regional departments to ensure that Country Offices receive the information they require, in a readily digestible form. (Paragraph 74)

27.  We recommend that DFID stipulates in its research contracts that researchers must make their research results, including any large data sets collected, publicly available within a reasonable period following completion of the work. (Paragraph 75)

DFID Approach to Science, Technology and Research

Lack of scientific culture

28.  We are not persuaded that DFID has fully grasped the cross-cutting nature of science, and the breadth of the contribution that it can make to meeting international development objectives. (Paragraph 77)

29.  The ten-year investment framework represented one of the most significant developments in UK science for several years. The fact that DFID gave only a cursory contribution reinforces the idea that DFID does not consider itself to be a department that has a significant involvement in science and research, and further highlights the need for DFID to have a high level staff member responsible for cross-Government liaison on science, technology, innovation and research. By failing to engage properly in these discussions, DFID may have missed an important opportunity to make the case for increased funding for science, technology and research in DFID. (Paragraph 78)

30.  We reiterate that natural and social science both have roles to play in international development, as do basic, applied and operational research. (Paragraph 80)

31.  We congratulate DFID for having sponsored some excellent research programmes that have made worthwhile contributions to poverty reduction. Regrettably, DFID has not always recognised the value of the work that it sponsors. It is impossible for DFID to gain the full benefit of the research that it commissions until there is widespread appreciation amongst its staff of the true worth of science and research for international development. (Paragraph 82)

Evidence-based policy making

32.  We conclude that DFID has failed to devote sufficient attention to evaluation of research. DFID must ensure that its past deficiencies in evaluation of research are rectified. We welcome the fact that DFID is strengthening its evaluation department and is now undertaking evaluations of two major research programmes in renewable natural resources and engineering, and also note that DFID's recent publications, such as the new HIV/AIDS Strategy, Taking Action, place greater emphasis on evaluation. However, resolving this problem will require a culture change within DFID as well as good intentions and the increased resources already at its disposal. (Paragraph 86)

Funding international research organisations—the case of CGIAR

33.  It is not for us to form a judgement on whether or not DFID was right to increase its investment in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research from £10 to £20 million per annum. However, we are surprised and disappointed by DFID's inability to provide concrete evidence for the basis of this decision. It is unacceptable for DFID to make an investment of this scale without being able to provide a considered justification. (Paragraph 88)

Research Strategy

Consultation process

34.  Whilst we realise that DFID's decision to open the draft Research Strategy for consultation gave the opportunity for those who so wished to comment on it, we are concerned that the original consultation process caused so much disquiet amongst the development sciences community. Irrespective of whether the lack of consultation affected the quality of the draft Research Strategy, by creating the impression that it was not interested in utilising the extensive experience of leading development scientists in the UK, DFID has damaged its relationship with the UK research base. (Paragraph 91)

35.  It is highly regrettable that DFID appears to have given so little attention to gaining developing country input to the Research Strategy. DFID's failure to incorporate the views of developing countries into the Strategy makes a mockery of its claim to follow a demand-led approach and calls into question the value of the Strategy. (Paragraph 92)

Future research topics

36.  DFID's decision to focus research in a limited number of areas is sensible and we are broadly supportive of the priorities identified. However, we urge DFID to take into account the enabling role of engineering and technology in meeting the identified priorities. (Paragraph 93)

37.  It is a source of alarm that DFID did not seek to learn the lessons of its £200 million investment in the Renewable Natural Resources Research Strategy Programme prior to the development of a new Research Strategy. This is suggestive of poor planning and management. DFID's decision to develop a new Research Strategy at this time, in the absence of key information and a DFID Chief Scientific Adviser, was imprudent. (Paragraph 94)

Wider approach to research

38.  We agree that DFID would benefit from horizon scanning activities and encourage DFID to learn from the experience of other Government departments. (Paragraph 95)

39.  A high priority for DFID's new Chief Scientific Adviser must be to develop a coherent policy on science, technology and research that encompasses issues such as the provision of scientific and technical advice to DFID and the effective use by DFID of scientific knowledge and research results to promote innovation. (Paragraph 96)

Capacity Building in Developing Countries

The need for capacity building in developing countries

40.  We believe that capacity building in science and technology can yield a panoply of benefits for both North and South, including stronger research and education systems in developing countries, and the fostering of international relations. (Paragraph 101)

41.  Whilst we agree that access to knowledge is vital, the capacity to utilise knowledge needs to be developed in tandem if any benefits are to be derived from the availability of new information. This requires both human resources and physical infrastructure. (Paragraph 102)

UK commitment to science and technology capacity building in developing countries

42.  We firmly believe that the UK has an obligation to support capacity building in science and technology for development and welcome the fact that the Government has now affirmed its commitment to do so. (Paragraph 103)

43.  DFID should commit significant extra funding specifically for capacity building, over and above the existing research budget. In addition to the funds for capacity building that are currently channelled through the central research budget, DFID Country Offices should play a much greater role in capacity building. However, a major collective international effort with a long-term horizon is vital for sustainable science and technology capacity building to be effected on the scale required. DFID should take advantage of its leadership roles in NEPAD and the Commission for Africa, as well as the forthcoming UK Presidencies of the G8 and EU, to call for an international science and technology capacity building strategy supported by the necessary resources. (Paragraph 106)

Trends in capacity building

44.  Technical assistance must play a valuable role in capacity building, providing that training and other forms of support for developing country nationals are included as an integral component of the assistance. (Paragraph 109)

UK training schemes and scholarships

Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan

45.  We are encouraged by the innovative approaches being applied to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. In particular, we support the introduction of split-site and distance learning awards. (Paragraph 112)

46.  We are pleased that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission continues to recognise the importance of doctorates for development of expertise in scientific subjects, despite the fact that PhDs are significantly more expensive than taught postgraduate courses. We also commend the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission for following a demand-led approach, and for ensuring strong representation of science and technology in the review process for award applications. (Paragraph 113)

47.  We welcome the approaches that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission is adopting to improve the quality and impact of the training it delivers. However, whilst the development of centres of excellence can undoubtedly have a positive impact on the wider region, care must be taken to ensure that concentration of resources in one institution or area does not distort the balance of capacity in the region or country as a whole. (Paragraph 116)

Higher Education Links Scheme

48.  DFID should be more sensitive to the impact of changes in its policy and funding arrangements on UK organisations and researchers, and their counterparts in developing countries. (Paragraph 121)

Chevening Scheme

49.  It is disappointing that the FCO has not been at all thorough in its past evaluation of the Chevening scheme. (Paragraph 124)

Dorothy Hodgkins Postgraduate Awards

50.  PhD fellowships, although more expensive than those for taught courses, are essential for building the depth of expertise and range of skills required for effective research in many scientific and technological subjects. (Paragraph 125)

Capacity building of national science and technology institutions

51.  Investment to strengthen the whole system of innovation in developing countries is required to make research more effective. Capacity building of national research systems must therefore encompass reinforcement of knowledge transfer and dissemination mechanisms. (Paragraph 132)

Information and Communications Technology capacity

52.  Investment in Information and Communications Technology, for example to grant institutions in developing countries reliable access to the internet, is money well spent and we encourage DFID to give such support high priority. Failure to address inadequacies in ICT infrastructure and equipment can negate the benefits of other investments in capacity building: effective science and research require access to the global pool of knowledge, and isolated researchers are likely to flounder without both scientific and moral support from their peers. For the same reasons, DFID should also continue to support networks that include researchers in developing countries. (Paragraph 135)

Laboratory equipment and infrastructure

53.  We believe that capacity building requires a holistic approach including thorough consideration of the infrastructure and equipment that will be available to the developing country researchers on completion of their training. In the case of split-site or in-country training schemes, it is clearly essential that adequate facilities are in place during the training. We urge DFID to explore further opportunities for the provision of laboratory equipment to developing countries; where this does occur, the equipment must be of a standard sufficient to support high quality research and the necessary training and instruction provided to render the equipment genuinely useful and to maintain it. (Paragraph 136)

Technology transfer/capacity building in the private sector

54.  We believe there is also an important role for public-private partnerships at a local level. (Paragraph 137)

55.  Science and technology capacity building in the private sector would complement efforts to strengthen science and technology capacity in the public sector and is vital for stimulation of innovation, and thus economic growth, in developing countries. (Paragraph 138)

56.  As the Government's policies stand it is impossible for developing countries to trade their way out of poverty. (Paragraph 140)

57.  We believe that in the more scientifically advanced and higher income developing countries there is much to be gained from building the capacity of the public and private sector to develop and manufacture drugs to meet the needs of people in developing countries. (Paragraph 141)

Brain drain

58.  The failure to address the brain drain of health workers from Malawi to the UK has been a highly damaging example of lack of Government co-ordination. We believe that in cases where there is clear evidence of a brain drain of scientists, researchers or health professionals from developing countries to the UK, the UK Government should institute arrangements for direct compensation for the loss of capacity in the relevant sector. (Paragraph 144)

59.  Determining the extent of any brain drain of scientists, researchers and scientific and technical support staff from developing countries, and understanding the consequences of this migration for international development, require further research and data collection. At the very least, UK Government departments should monitor the numbers of migrants from developing countries in their employment and the destinations of developing country award holders for scholarships that they sponsor. However, a far more powerful evidence base could be built if other countries were willing to engage in a long-term international study of the mobility of scientists and researchers from developing countries. We recommend that DFID take the lead in calling for the initiation of such a study by the UN or another international agency. (Paragraph 146)

Co-ordination

Defra

60.  We commend Defra for the inclusion of a requirement for capacity building in its contract with the Hadley Centre and believe that all Government departments should incorporate capacity building requirements into their contracts for science, technology and research for development where appropriate. It is, of course, necessary to then provide adequate funding to support the capacity building activities. (Paragraph 151)

FCO

61.  There is clearly scope for better alignment and co-ordination of FCO and DFID activities. Although we welcome the willingness of the FCO to explore these opportunities, we regret the fact that this has not happened before. As well as co-ordination between the central Government departments, there is much to be gained from interaction between the FCO and DFID at country level. (Paragraph 155)

UK Trade and Investment

62.  It is essential that DFID can benefit and learn from developments in thinking in other Government departments. The DTI has invested significant resources in strengthening its understanding of, and ability to promote, innovation in the UK. This knowledge could also be profitably utilised for informing the UK approach to development. Since UKTI does not seem to be a natural conduit for dissemination of this information to DFID, we recommend that the Director General of Innovation at the DTI takes responsibility for sharing this knowledge with DFID. (Paragraph 159)

OST

63.  Science and technology for international development should be a priority for OST and we congratulate Sir David King, whose personal input and enthusiasm have played a key role in moving this issue up the UK Government agenda. (Paragraph 161)

British Council

64.  We believe that closer collaboration between scientifically qualified staff in the British Council and DFID Country Offices and the FCO science and technology network could yield mutual benefits and reinforce the UK's scientific contribution to international development. (Paragraph 164)

UK Funders' Forum

65.  The Funders' Forum could be a very useful vehicle for promoting co-ordination of UK-funded research for development. In view of the large numbers of potential participants, we recommend that the Funders' Forum be subdivided by sector or theme to prevent it becoming too unwieldy. However, we remain highly concerned that DFID has not made sufficient provision for eliciting input from developing countries and do not see that the Funders' Forum as proposed will ameliorate this problem in any way. (Paragraph 168)

Co-ordination with other international bodies

66.  DFID should build on the international respect that it commands for promulgation of best practice amongst aid agencies. We urge DFID to speak out against any examples of poor practice that it encounters in science, technology or research for international development. (Paragraph 170)

UK Research Capacity

Erosion of UK research capacity

67.  The quality and strength of UK research has been instrumental in building the reputation of the UK in international development. If it is not averted, the current erosion of the UK development sciences research base will severely undermine the ability of the UK to play its full part in international development in years to come. The Government should not sit back and watch this happen, never mind contribute to the process of erosion. (Paragraph 174)

Untying

68.  DFID should not have chosen to pursue a policy that the Government's Chief Scientist now believes could be so damaging, without consideration of measures that could be taken, if not by DFID then by other Government departments, to minimise the negative impact of this policy on the UK. (Paragraph 176)

69.  We consider that DFID was rash in untying research funding without eliciting firm commitments from other countries that they would also adopt that policy over an agreed timescale. The current situation poses a threat to the sustainability of the UK development sciences research base and has therefore resulted in feelings of distress and disappointment towards DFID in the research community. Having taken this course of action, DFID must now redouble its efforts to persuade other countries to untie their research funding. (Paragraph 179)

EU Framework Programme

70.  We believe that the UK Government should, as many other governments do, provide matching funding to cover the overheads of EU Framework Programme research awards. (Paragraph 182)

Move towards in-country training

71.  We strongly encourage the building of North-South partnerships in science, technology and research. (Paragraph 183)

Research Assessment Exercise

72.  The lack of recognition awarded to development sciences in the Research Assessment Exercise has marginalised the development sciences community and helped to compromise the sustainability of some research institutions and groups. Future Research Assessment Exercises must use appropriate criteria and assessors with relevant expertise to ensure that much greater credit is given to all high quality development sciences research and capacity building activities, and the development sciences community needs to be reassured that this will be the case. Academics must be properly rewarded for engaging in capacity building activities and spending time working in developing countries in a way that contributes towards sustainable development. (Paragraph 185)

UK Research Councils

73.  The scientific community must take care that disillusionment with DFID's approach to science does not lead it to be universally dismissive of DFID's work. Effective development sciences research is wholly dependent on a thorough understanding of the development context, as well as the science. (Paragraph 193)

74.  It is very regrettable that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council chooses to exclude international development from its mission. (Paragraph 194)

75.  We are of the view that the UK Research Councils can play an important role in funding research for international development and consider that such research is highly likely to deliver additional, incidental benefits for the UK. The Research Councils should adopt a clear and consistent approach to the funding of scientific and technical research for international development. (Paragraph 196)

Responsibility for UK research capacity

76.  The fact that no single person or department is taking responsibility for science and technology of relevance to international development has undoubtedly had a detrimental impact on the UK development sciences research base. Even though DFID did not consider it to be within its remit, it could and should have done more to raise awareness across Government of the serious problems being experienced by development sciences researchers in the UK. Nevertheless, DFID does not exist to promote the interests of the UK, and we believe that it would therefore be inappropriate for DFID to take a leadership role in maintaining UK research capability. The most logical arrangement would be for OST, through the Chief Scientific Adviser, to take responsibility for cross-Government co-ordination and, through RCUK, for the maintenance of the UK skills base in development sciences. (Paragraph 197)

Development Sciences Research Board

77.  We propose that a cross-cutting Development Sciences Research Board be established with a mandate to award grants for development sciences R&D to UK-based institutions. (Paragraph 198)

78.  We believe that the recent substantial increases in the aid budget would be complemented by a commensurate increase in the availability of funding for development sciences R&D in the UK, in order to strengthen the evidence base available for international development policy-making, and to safeguard the UK's ability to maintain a leadership role in this field. We estimate that an initial budget of approximately £100 million per annum would be required for the Development Sciences Research Board to fulfil its role effectively. (Paragraph 201)


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 26 October 2004