Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-118)|
23 FEBRUARY 2004
Q100 Chairman: Between cities and townships,
Mr Maxwell: Between institutions.
One of the risks, however, in doing all this is that people think
about research and science as being like making sausagesthat
you can set a problem and put three people on to it and six months
later to a very specific timetable out will come the sausage which
is the solution. Actually we know that research does not work
like that. Research is very often serendipitousa good idea
comes when you are lying in the bath about something you are not
really thinking about at allso a really key part of good
research is creating good networks. IDRC has been very strong
on this and this is something we need to be working more on; professional
associations, conferences, linking people up together, using the
internet in interesting ways, creating a culture of research innovation
and not simply a set of research projects.
Dr Smith: Briefly adding to that,
I was the chair when IDRC set up the international network for
Bamboo and Rattan, and the researchers all have access through
the IDRC website to 20,000 different journals I believe, that
deal with the problem of out-of-date journals. These researchers
are on line and increasingly they have broadband access. This
is a fantastic resource because as well as being able to communicate
with each other you can go in and pull material out on the internet.
Professor Leach: I was going to
add the experience from the Institute of Development Studies where
we had a two-year MPhil programme which has run since the 1960s
where one sees exactly the benefits you are talking about. Often
our alumni, who operate through an alumnus network but nevertheless
are in diverse positions of developing countries, have a knowledge
of the British system which makes it much easier for them to get
engaged in a productive way for development corporation research
in the future, so those networks established through training,
whether PhDs or Masters programmes, continue in one way or another
but often in a way that is somewhat informal. It is about creating
those networks which are variable.
Q101 Chairman: Just probing that a little
more, and I have some experience from the University of East Anglia,
there are lots of problems about bringing students from other
countries. There are the positive points you made but one of the
first issues is the cost; another might be the whole arena now
of terrorism and the vetting that is going onthis Committee
is about to debate in Parliament with the Home Office their attitude
to terrorism and restriction of students and so onso would
you like to say something about the changing environment for students
from other places whom we should welcome? What is happening in
that field in this country?
Professor Leach: One of the biggest
problems is funding. We have seen over the last fifteen years
a big shift in our MPhil programme which used to be about 70%
students from developing countries and about 25% from Europe and
North America. We have seen more or less a shift exactly in those
proportions and we are now getting a much higher proportion from
Europe and America and much lower proportions from developing
countries simply because the opportunities for studentships from
the British Council or from their own governments and organisations
have diminished. So that is clearly one major blockage; it costs
a great deal for people to come here. A second problem is that,
having been trained or gained a new critical edge on development
issues through an international training people often feel very
depressed about going back to countries where there are political
and academic environments which are quite repressive of free thinking.
I have just finished supervising a Gambian PhD student who is
one of six Gambian PhD students in Britain at the moment; she
is the only one who is going to go back to Gambia and she laments
this. She says she is going to go back and start a forum for intellectual
freedom, but everybody else is going to look out for jobs at the
World Bank. Now, that is not only because it is easier to get
financial benefits and one can live a better life working for
the World Bank; it is also about the context and it is the lack
of research culture in some of the countries that people are going
back to. So I think there is a dual responsibility. Training opportunities
abroad are important but need to go along with helping to build
the type of environments that those people can then go back in
to thrive and to go into those international developments, which
will encourage them to return home.
Q102 Chairman: So what is restricting
the numbers coming? What has changed the proportions in your institutions?
Is it cost? Is it the vetting that is the threat now and so on?
Professor Leach: Largely cost.
I am not aware of vetting having increased as a problem. I am
not aware that that has become a factor. It is largely a funding
constraint, from my perception.
Q103 Chairman: Has Canada had any experience
Dr Smith: Yes. Above all in the
United States we are getting a flood of foreign students coming
in because they feel they either cannot get into or do not want
to go into the United States where they will be profiled and all
the rest of it, so it is quite marked. It is something we all
have to think about, if I may, because if these students cannot
get into the United States where are they going to go, or are
they just not going to go nowhere? I do not know, but there is
a real issue in terms of the door being closed, or at least their
perception that the door is closed, in the United States.
Professor Diamond: If you look
at UK higher education as a whole there has been a major increase
in the number of overseas students in the last two or three years
particularly from China going into business schools, and that
has been the result of the increasing difficulty of entering the
United States of America. However, the points that Professor Leach
has made regarding funding are incredibly important when we come
to the poorer countries, and for those countries access to funding
to pursue any kind of course is extremely difficult. There are
some funds available, for example, through the scholarships of
the Association of Commonwealth Universities but relatively few,
and it does seem to me that there is the potential to think laterally
about some exciting new ways of doing, for example, PhDs that
might involve partnerships with certain universities with people
spending part of their time at the university and part of their
time in their own country, just lowering the costs and maximising
the technology transfer that goes through this.
Mr Maxwell: We do have to be a
little bit careful not to start this conversation from the perspective
of what was the old colonial model where there was no capacity
to train in developing countries. Wherever it is possible to train
people in the south it will be much cheaper, more cost effective
and more appropriate culturally to do so. There is a sense in
which the main beneficiaries of bringing foreign students to the
United Kingdom are the United Kingdom institutions and the United
Kingdom debate, and there is good reason to fund students. We
learn as much as they do.
Dr Iddon: You make a very good point
because I have trained quite a number of students from a wide
variety countries including some of the developing countries,
and I guess if I did a count less than 50% returned to their country
of origin, and I found that rather sad. Coming back to the original
point I made quite a while ago, perhaps we are just overtraining
people for the tasks they are expected to do when they go home.
Teaching them how to handle fancy chemicals that are just unavailable
in the under-developed countries is possibly wrong, and I agree
with you and ask the witnesses, has anyone done a score of how
many foreign students we train in the developed countries go back
to their countries of origin?
Professor Diamond: I do not have
that score and I do not know where it exists. Firstly, though,
you say we train people to use fancy chemicals which they cannot
use when they go back to their country. Well, I would just like
to say that that is why I have been talking about long-term capacity
building in a country. Secondly, a smaller point, some of the
people who do stay in, for example, this country do profoundly
important academic research relevant to their own country, and
I can give three or four examples of that.
Q104 Mr McWalter: Could we have those
examples in correspondence?
Professor Diamond: I would be
Q105 Mr McWalter: Some time ago the United
Kingdom Government chose massively to reduce its support to train
people from developing countries and cut down support to the tertiary
sector in developing countries, and witnesses have said they are
very concerned about that. What has been the impact of this change
of approach both for developing science and technology capacity
in developing countries and for our standing in the international
development community? If it has had no consequence or if, for
instance, the consequence is six people in The Gambia and one
is going back, that is a fat lot of good for international development
with the States, and maybe that Government that did that took
that point of view and decided it was justified to slash these
budgets. Are you not angry about it? Do you not want it changed?
Professor Leach: I am trying to
think of a general response. There is a sense in some of the countries
which had had a lot of British support that Britain has somehow
sold out and abandoned them, for instance, British Council support
which was once much higher and has been retracted and there was
a time when people could go and get scholarships
Q106 Mr McWalter: So should we recommend
a massive increase in the British Council system, or did that
Professor Leach: I think there
are new models that one should look to which are not so top down,
which are not about giving grants to bring people to be trained
on our terms in this country. We should be looking to much more
innovative ways of linking cutting edge with partnered research
which involves partnerships between the UK and developing country
institutions which might have an element of PhD training within
them, some of the most successful examples of capacity building
that I have been involved in have involved partnership research
programmes where we have taken relatively junior people perhaps
with a first degree and not much more and they have become involved
in a project as researchers which has involved some south exchange,
some time in the United Kingdom with access to new literature
and a lot of field work in their own countries, and at the end
they have sometimes produced PhDs and sometimes they have just
produced reports, and a sense of confidence that they can now
engage with the policy networks in their own countries and with
the international scientific community, and relate the issues
that are important in their own countries to those international
research debates, and that is what I see is real capacity building.
There is an element there of research, of training and of partnership
in which the learning flows both ways. Also, on capacity building,
I am often quite uncomfortable with the term because it implies
a one-way flow of capacity from us to developing countries. In
my experience, good partnership arrangements involve just as much
learning the other way. There are things that United Kingdom institutions
have an advantage in in terms of access to literature and access
to international debates, and there are many kinds of knowledge
that can only be gained on the groundknowledge of local
issues and policy networksand building capacity is really
about encouraging those two-way, multi-way flows of information.
Q107 Mr McWalter: So we need a structure,
do we? I like the idea that if you are going to do a doctorate
you should not just bring them over here so they do their doctorate
and are then miserable about going back, but that it is a doctorate
done half in Uganda and half here and it recognises, for instance,
that understanding flood plains in Uganda is something they will
learn about more than we will. But would that recommendation that
you have both made mean that the brain drain problem which capacity
building historically has generated would be solved, or largely
Mr Maxwell: A good model that
you might want to look at in more detail is something called the
African Economics Research Consortium, which was founded by IDRC
and whose donor funders include DFID, and which is a way to strengthen
research across a range of African countries by putting money
into research locally with a certain amount of external input
where appropriate. That is the bottom-up model that we have all
been talking about.
Q108 Chairman: Is that published somewhere?
Dr Smith: Yes. We can certainly
get you that website and indeed Dr Spence, who is on the board
of the AERC, is with me here. It has been very successful and
we have twenty other funders that are with us in the AERC, and
it certainly contributes significantly to having people stay where
they have come from. It enables them to be part of a global environment
but at the same time to stay local?
Q109 Paul Farrelly: Are there any national
scale models or initiatives? We have heard something of Canada's
already that are worth exploring further as far as the United
Kingdom is concerned.
Mr Maxwell: By other developed
Q110 Paul Farrelly: Yes.
Mr Maxwell: The Dutch are good,
the Danes are good, the Swedes are good, the French are probably
okay in a fairly traditional way, the Americans as I said earlier,
have had long-term relationships between land grant universities
and others. Many of the countries I have listed have institutions
which are specifically responsible for doing this, and IDRC is
one, where there is a clear mandate and a ring-fenced fund in
order to build science and technology capacity overseas.
Q111 Mr McWalter: We are looking for
some sort of integrated approach on the part of the United Kingdom
and we have identified, I think, that that does not existperhaps
rather sharply. What we are worried about now is can the different
objectives of different government departments be made to support
a single strategy, or are they really complementary at all? The
DTI pursues trade but is not that interested in the conditions
of trade for developing countries; the DFID is interested in poverty
reduction but is not that interested in how you get out of poverty
once you have taken the first few steps, and all the scientific
staff from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seem to be very
interested in telling the Japanese how wonderful we are and cribbing
what they can from other developed countries but not doing much
about developing countries. In all this mess, is there a model
we could use which would give us an integrated approach to a scientific
and technology capacity building system?
Mr Maxwell: I came into this meeting
with three issues on my piece of paper for the Committee, the
first being to turn over the carpet in our own house and see what
we can find underneath.
Q112 Mr McWalter: You can hear we have
been doing that!
Mr Maxwell: But it would be very
helpful to look at other sectors than development and ask whether
or not we have cracked this problem. In food policy, for example,
where a number of different ministries and agencies are involved,
we now have a Food Standards Agency as a way of focusing. Are
we doing something similar in the defence industry? I do not know
the answer to that question but I hope you may be able to help
Q113 Chairman: We are seeing Defra.
Mr Scott: Supplementing what Simon
has said on that, if we are going to be thinking in those kinds
of terms we also need to be thinking about the extent to which
the interests, particularly of poorer developing countries, are
taken into account in all of United Kingdom policy ranking across
science and technology and other departments. If that thinking
is there then we will see a much closer integration of the kind
of subjects we are talking about.
Q114 Chairman: But it will not be there.
Part of education is that universities are going to carry on offering
doctoral programmes to people saying, "Come here, stay here
three years, go back with a bit of paperoh, you do not
want to go back? That is a bit of a shamenever mind".
Nothing much is going to change unless somehow or other the Chinese
walls are broken down. I am not at all convinced we have heard
from you a really sufficient sense of urgency about how we might
do that, or even any real suggestions about whether this problem
is solvable at all.
Mr Maxwell: Chairman, may I ask
whether you have considered in other inquiries the funding forum
model? That is something that those of us who work on development
research have been keen on. Are witnesses allowed to ask questions?
Chairman: Of course they are.
Q115 Mr McWalter: We want to solve the
problem. Anything you say.
Professor Diamond: It does seem
to me that if this is seen to be an important issue then it is
solvable but it requires something like a funders forum where
people are prepared to sit down and say what the issues are and
how we get around them. It is not rocket science to do this but
it does require an absolute commitment that this is important.
Q116 Chairman: I tell you what I am thinking
really, which is that we want to shake DFID around a bit. We know
they are beginning to think of new ways of tackling these problems
so I think they have come to terms with the problem, and it is
our job really to raise it up the agenda, with the help you have
given us today. You may not be angry enough for some of my colleagues
but I know some of you individually and know you are quite angry
and a lot of people working in this field are pretty angry too,
so the information you are giving us will be very helpful for
us when we come up with a report which I hope will be as sharp
as our MRC report was which I am going to now say really turned
the MRC around. We are going to Malawi, by the way; we have been
advised that would be an interesting place to visit. We could
spend the rest of our lives visiting the developing world but
we are going to Malawi to see how it operates there on the ground
and to talk to people there and how they feel about it, so I am
looking forward to that and I know the advice you have given us
today will help in asking the right kind of questions. So do not
feel despondent: we pick things up and hear what you are saying.
Would anybody like to finish on a high note?
Professor Diamond: Could I just
say one of the written pieces of evidence that I would give to
Tony would be of a woman called Dr Nyovani Madise from the University
of Southampton, who is Malawian and if you are going to Malawi
I would advise you very strongly to meet her. She came to this
country on a scholarship, has since stayed and has undertaken
excellent research on Malawi and the sub Saharan African area.
She is a fine example of the sort of person you must meet.
Q117 Chairman: We will certainly do that
and if you have colleagues or friends who will have a view about
this please encourage them to write in, because our MRC report
came from the grass roots of MRC researchers who told us what
was going on on the ground and how they felt, and I think they
inspired us to get stuck in, as it were.
Mr Maxwell: I would not like you
to think we have gone native, Chairman, but I would also urge
you to have the OST and HEFCE on your hit list.
Q118 Chairman: They are on our hit list!
We are the Committee from hell!
Mr Maxwell: A final point, just
picking up on what Dr Iddon said earlier, DFID went through an
exercise in the second half of last year to try and identify what
were the big problems that needed research input over the next
decade or 20 years and they had over 600 replies. I have my own
little list of 12 and I want to emphasise that these are huge
problems facing not just the world but particularly developing
countries. Just to take one example, by 2020 more than 50% of
all people in developing countries will be living in towns. The
pace of urbanisation is absolutely astonishing and changes everything
from food delivery through health and education, sanitation and
public service delivery. Those problems are not going to be solved
and managed without a very serious research input which combines
science and technology and social science. That is something that
needs to be very high on the agenda not only in DFID but also
Professor Diamond: To give you
another example, agricultural economists would say that if we
are going to feed nine to 10 billion people in the worldand
there are going to be nine to 10 billion people on this planetthen
we need an increase in the rate of food production which is equivalent
to that we have seen in the last 20 years during the second agricultural
revolution. That will only happen, given the fact that much of
the land which remains to plant such food on is marginal land,
if there is research to enable that to happen, and that research
has to happen now, not in 20 years. If it does not happen then
we have a problem sustaining a population of nine to 10 billion
people on this planet.
Professor Leach: I would like
to echo that and to argue that if the livelihood needs of poor
people in rural areas and increasingly in urban areas are going
to be met it is really crucial that the rapid advances in science
and technology which are proceeding and which will proceed in
the private sector as much as the public sector are harnessed
to the needs of those poor people, and that requires a political
effort to galvanise research and the interests across a number
of government departments into tackling those problems. There
is perhaps a political opportunity in Britain's role in the G8
next year and in the role that Britain is taking in the NEPAD
process to use this as a chance to galvanise and to say science
and technology must contribute to decreasing this global gap rather
than widening it which, frankly, it threatens to do at times given
the pace of technological change. If it is captured by the private
sector towards creating pockets of high tech advance, perhaps
in particular bits of developing culture, then we will fail. Harnessing
technology to meet the needs of the poor is a very important agenda,
and one which I think we would all support.
Chairman: That is a great note to inspire
us to finish on. Can I say thank you very much, particularly to
Gordon Smith for coming all the way from Canada. Thank you for
sharing your experience and erudition in this field, and I think
you will find the Committee have picked up many of the messages
you have sent to us today. Keep your eye on our website, see who
else we are meeting, and just watch for fireworks. Thank you very