Examination of Witnesses (Questions 373-379)|
9 JUNE 2004
Q373 Chairman: Good morning. Thank you
very much for coming to help in what is turning out for us to
be a really interesting inquiry. We have you here to help us unravel
some of the problems in the engineering sector and how DFID and
so on interact in the developing world. You will be followed by
people in health, and next week we are off to Malawi to inform
ourselves of what really does happen at grass roots. We are beginning
to feel that DFID have had a reawakening, that science and technology
in that sleepy hollow has suddenly come alive again. It has been
a pretty low effort, if at any level at all that is worth recording,
and I think the Department stands indicted if that be true. Am
I talking out of turn here? Is the picture you are seeing that
there are changes taking place? In reaction to inquiries or whatever
causes, is something changing in DFID? Do you pick it up? Do you
hear it through the grapevine, in the pubs and clubs?
Professor O'Reilly: There are
three of us, Chairman, and we come from separate organisations.
Would you like us just to run along.
Q374 Chairman: Yes, I think so. On a
question like that, we will do that.
Professor O'Reilly: Okay, then
you can play us as you wish. For the record, I am John O'Reilly,
Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Q375 Chairman: We have your biography,
Professor O'Reilly: Indeed. From
the EPSRC perspective, with regard to both DFID and the developing
world research, I would say there is very limited direct interaction
for EPSRC but, in large measure, that is dictated more by the
nature of our remit and our specific mission than any observations
I would make elsewhereand let's recognise that that could
be quite different for other research councils, where their missions
may well align or the research itself may align. In terms of our
specific programmes, it is in the infrastructure and environment
programme where there are potential synergies, and there have
been discussions and interactions with DFID largely in terms of
making sure about awareness and so on, that they are aware of
the strengths. In terms of EPSRC-funded researchers, we do knowwe
have checkedthat there are significant activities, collaborations,
interactions with developing countries, although our funding is
not doing that directly. The area for development I would say
probably is in the post-graduate programmes of training for the
future. From some of the discussions I have had with DFID, that
is where we may be able to open up things very positively.
Q376 Chairman: If I were to say there
is nothing going on, I would not be far amiss.
Professor O'Reilly: If you said:
"Does EPSRC collaboratively with DFID fund in developing
countries?" I think you would be right, inasmuch as that
is not primarily what we do. The answer in that sense is no. But
you would be wrong if you were to say that there is not good awareness
and good interaction.
Q377 Chairman: You are not interested
really in this whole area.
Professor O'Reilly: If you look
at the EPSRC mission and our remit, there is not a direct link
there, there is an indirect link. There are some good interactions
in areas of flooding. Water is one area where there are synergies
and so on. As you rightly say, Chairman, we have recently been
talking yet more strongly to DFID because the structures make
that possible. To say "not interested" I think would
be wrong. "Is there a fit?" is the issue.
Q378 Dr Iddon: The Director General of
the Research Councils, Sir Keith O'Nions, said that the research
councils "must have a part to play" in research for
international development. The MRC do it, the ESRC do it, why
does your research council not do it?
Professor O'Reilly: It depends
what you mean by a "part to play". My point there is
that the nature of that interaction is going to be different.
In the case of MRC, the research itself takes place in the developing
countries because what they research on is there. In the case
of EPSRC, it is more the products of the research that will have
relevance to the international development agenda rather than
that we would go there to do our research.
Q379 Mr McWalter: Managing Mozambique
and the floods, say, is not an interesting problem that would
require the most extraordinary engineering expertise?
Professor O'Reilly: From my perspective,
it would be an interesting case study that would inform the generic
research on flooding in which we are engaged. Indeed, the flooding
consortium that we have jointly with the NERC and with DEFRA and
so on is a good example of that. So it is "relevant to"
but it is not "go there and do the research there" from
an EPSRC perspective.