Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)|
9 JUNE 2004
Q400 Chairman: I mean, the man who is
responsible for the engineering projects?
Mr Cameron: But certainly our
local representatives would have good links with your country
reps, and we need to build on that.
Q401 Mr Key: Andrew Cotton, your memorandum
actually says, ". . . a detectable reduction in the emphasis
placed by DFID on the role of technology and engineering"
has occurred. How have you detected that?
Dr Cotton: I would pick up on
a point that Peter made where I think he said, "Don't mention
infrastructure too strongly when you are in some of these dealings".
That was a feeling that we got, for example, through the Knowledge
and Research Programme of the engineering division. One of the
important things it did was to go for an interdisciplinary approach
with engineering-based research projects. My question would beand
I do not know the answer to thisDid other sectoral programmes
within DFID make a similar question? In other words, had social
science based research programmes made an effort to incorporate
engineering views and engineering considerations within that?
We certainly felt that we had to keep off too strong a statement
about infrastructure and technology being at the forefront of
what we were doing. I would add that, in the that work we have
done and in our experience, technology and engineering is but
one component. It has to be viewed within the institutional, economic,
financial, social, environmental contextso it is one of
sixbut we tended to feel that we were keeping it a little
Q402 Mr Key: Are you confident that people
in DFID are competent to assess the role of engineering in their
programmes overseas? Do you think they have the right staff? Is
it perhaps because they do not have the right staff in DFID that
they do not see the importance of engineering and technology?
Dr Cotton: Of the staff that I
know, the engineering advisors, to a man and a woman I believe
them to be highly competent and very good and they have a very
good understanding of development. My question would be of the
number within the cadre, as to whether you have sufficient given
the up-scaling of the overall aid programme budgets to reflect
the need for improved infrastructure. So I think it would be more
to do with the numbers on their advisory group within engineering
that would be of a concern.
Q403 Mr Key: I wonder if I could ask
all three of you whether you feel DFID is right to focus on the
application of access to engineering rather than new technology
per se. Because that is the impression we get. They are
not very interested in promoting new research in technology and
Mr Cameron: It is an interesting
question, in that I think there has always been an eagerness,
certainly with our contacts with DFID, to promote and look at
new technology. I think it is interesting, though, that DFID have
moved away from having an engineering division to having an urban
development and infrastructure division, and that tends to suggest
to me and to us that the engineering side is more subservient
to the general research programmes.
Q404 Mr Key: Would anyone else wish to
add to that?
Dr Cotton: I think the emphasis
on application is prominent. Let me say, around water and sanitationwhich
is a key area, it runs through the Millennium Development Goalsthat
there it is the application which needs looking at. And I think
it is the application within a context: the dissemination and
the uptake. There are a lot of ideas there, there is a lot of
research there, but I think we do not have the exploration of
what works well and what does not work well. Where is the evidence
base within particular contexts? From that point of view, I would
say that that focus in water and sanitation is correct. More broadly,
I can think of areas where in technology terms it is the quantum
leap stuff which has real application to development; for example,
mobile telephony and global positioning. Now, in terms of locating
rural water supplies, water sources right out in the bush, wherever
you are, somebody can go there with this kit, click it in, and
you can start to map your assets. The technology of the assets
is simple and appropriate but you are then using a very high technology
approach to do the asset registers, which is what is going to
lead to then get good management of those assets. I think that
is the exciting area: when you can look at the quantum leaps in
technology which can apply straight to these situations.
Q405 Mr Key: And you are saying that
DFID really is not very excited about these quantum leaps.
Dr Cotton: It is a question of
whether they are looking to develop these quantum leaps themselves.
I guess that is where John said there would be scope maybe for
improving those links between that type of exciting new technology
and its application.
Mr Cameron: If I may add to that,
I think it is unfair to say really that DFID are not interested
in the quantum leaps, that they are not interested in development
technology. Clearly from the contacts we have there is a lot of
enthusiasm for getting into a lot of very interesting research
projects. I think that vital within that, as Andrew has just said,
is to be able to have a very clear assessment and record and database
of what works and what does not, so we can move forward all the
time and discard those that have clearly failed.
Professor O'Reilly: First of all,
I think the two other participants have put the case, in a sense,
very well, but perhaps I could just pick up on how this might
actually relate to EPSRC and EPSRC researchers. Some of the "quantum
leap" kind of discussions are the sorts of things that EPSRC
itself has funded. It has been research which has been undertaken
here, which has been informed by opportunities in developing countries
and looking at telecommunications for regional areashow
one can deploy that and so onand the research that we do
in telemedicine that would carry across and so on. But in terms
of you saying, "But what about the really big development?"
let me reiterate what I said at the beginning, Chairman: I do
believe there is a very important role for EPSRCand I think
we are very open to itin terms of providing really good
training opportunities, such that the countries themselves are
able to pick up and take on that thought for the future. That
was really why in my opening remarks I said that I think one does
have to look at what is the best fit in terms of the remit and
the mission and those things which we are already well set up
to do and do well, and getting good synergies in there. You will
find those in the Masters programmes that we operate, where people
come and so on. I think in the recent discussions with DFID that
may well be an area for future development that I would be very
keen to develop. I think the Dorothy Hodgkin scholarships are
a superb initiative that fit in very well with that, and EPSRC
is a strong contributor and indeed is administering this scheme.
So I think these things play in different dimensions to the different
Q406 Mr Key: Does the Research Assessment
Exercise affect your attitude to doing research on international
Professor O'Reilly: That is presumably
not a question to me as EPSRC.
Dr Cotton: Shall I take that one.
Q407 Mr Key: Yes, please.
Dr Cotton: It is difficult because
we have to try to make a balance between producing the peer review
journal outputs which are required for research assessment . .
. . I should say that my institute has actually been in and out
of the RAE: it has been in it, it has been out of it, and it is
back in it again. From that point of view, we are interested.
We are part of Loughborough University and therefore we desire
to do the peer review publication to contribute to RAE as a key
thing. It is actually difficult because our primary work and our
bread and butter is much more on the development and the application.
Also, we find that we have to have a balance of activityit
is not just research, it is capacity building, training and consultancyand
basically that gives us our competitive edge. That enables us
then to make, if you like, the cutting-edge research applications,
because we have worked in the field. In a sense, the proportion
of our time that we spend is squeezed and it is not easy to allocate
the time for RAE contributions.
Q408 Chairman: Do you think the RAE should
be modified to allow for your ventures?
Dr Cotton: I certainly think it
Professor O'Reilly: If I may add
a small thing, prompted by your discussion. There is a certain
sense in some of what Andrew is saying that this is a different
dimension on knowledge transfer as well, is it not? The question
then would be how in our system do we give proper recognition
and put it in the right place in terms of that sort of dimension.
Of course the old RAE was not designed for that. The new RAE or
whatever informs the knowledge transfer funds could take account
of these and I think that would be a very healthy thing to have
Q409 Mr Key: A large chunk of our international
development budget is channelled through the EU. What is your
experience of applying for EU money in international development
Dr Cotton: Our experience is difficult.
We actually have a number of applications on the go at any one
time, but it has certainly been difficultand we have not
been particularly successful at it, largely because we have not
I think maybe focused at that source of funding, which is something
that institutionally we are now doing much more strongly and putting
more resources into doing.
Q410 Dr Turner: Does it involve the same
sort of complexities as the framework development funds? Do you
have to identify European partners in order to make your bids
and so on?
Dr Cotton: Yes. Definitely it
has those. It is around different sorts of partnership building.
We have good partnerships with the south and we have partnerships
with a number of European organisations, but we are looking to
Q411 Mr McWalter: We have heard that
other European countries, when they finally do get some EU recognition
for their work, then get correlative funding so that the project
is viable, while, in the UK, the UK government is much less willing
to provide that correlative funding and EU funding itself does
not even fund the total level of overheads the projects incur.
I cannot see why you would bother doing it in those circumstances
because all you are going to end up with, even if you get the
EU money, is a loss-leader. Should British government policy not
change so as to make these projects more viable?
Dr Cotton: It would help if British
government policy changed. Certainly, from where we sit, if we
are making a serious EU application we have to look very carefully
at that and we do have to treat it as something which does not
recover our overheads, because we do have to recover our full
Q412 Mr McWalter: It is not the EU's
fault, is it? It is DFID's fault, because if they took this seriously
they would make the representations to the government that this
needed to be done.
Dr Cotton: I think it is a problem
that needs to be sorted out.
Q413 Mr McWalter: Why are you so pussyfooting
on DFID? We ask you about numbers of engineers and you say there
is a bit of a problem about numbers. Why do you not say straight
out that there are not enough engineers?
Dr Cotton: With respect, I suggested
that you had a good look at it, and I said in here that maybe
you should take one of your indicators to be that, so I do not
think I have pussyfooted around it.
Q414 Chairman: The RCUK's written evidence
suggests that "At country level DFID can also increase its
engagement with the international development programmes of the
International Agencies, the European Union and its European partners."
How can that coordination be better achieved?
Professor O'Reilly: I think you
have to look at the inhibitors, Chairman. To whom can we talk?
I think there are very good ways in which we do that through other
research councils in Europe and so on.
Q415 Chairman: Talk is cheap.
Professor O'Reilly: Exactly so.
I think the biggest inhibitor does not apply just for the development;
it is actually to do with EU funding of research. You have been
touching on something that is not particularly a DFID problemalthough
there is the possibility of some amelioration of it. My personal
viewand you know this because you have heard me say this,
Chairmanis that it would be far more sensible if in Europe
we actually cut to the quick and said, "Let's fund research
from Europe properly so that people do not have to dance around
all of these things." I think that applies to development,
just like it applies everywhere else.
Q416 Dr Turner: DFID's change of research
strategy wants to focus on four primary themes: agricultural productivity
in Africa, killer diseases, states that work in the interests
of the poor and climate change. First of all, what are your views
on this strategy? Secondly, what do you think you as engineers
have to contribute towards this?
Mr Cameron: Certainly, as I said
earlier, as important as all those four areas are, I think there
is an underlying problem that the engineering aspects are tending
to be demoted. Underpinning all of those things, as we said in
our paper, are the infrastructure elements and none of those aspects
of research can stand alone without adequate water, sanitation,
access, communication, energy, buildings and so on. If we forget
about those and think that we can solve all of the poverty issues
without those, we are going to be very much mistaken.
Dr Turner: I do not disagree with that.
Q417 Mr McWalter: To put it colloquially,
you are saying they are plonkers, are you not?
Mr Cameron: I am not saying that,
I am saying that the new strategy paper is not giving sufficient
significance to the engineering that underlies all those aspects
of development that need to be studied properly and much more
Q418 Dr Turner: You co-hosted the applied
technologies workshop during the DFID consultation for the research
strategy. What are your views on the way DFID conducted that consultation?
Was it an adequate process? In fact your earlier remarks imply
that perhaps it was not, because the importance of the infrastructure
policies does not seem to have come through in the strategy.
Mr Cameron: I would not say necessarily
it was the fault of DFID or people who have helped develop those
workshops. It may well be our fault for not being sufficiently
trustful in driving the fact that the infrastructure has to underpin
all of those aspects. I think we were frustrated that, possibly
due to lack of eloquence on our side/a high level of eloquence
on the other side, the aspect, important as it is, of the topic
of agriculture did seem to take prevalence over everything else.
Q419 Dr Turner: DFID's new strategy shows
a commitment on DFID's part to public/private partnerships. You
have expressed a certain amount of scepticism regarding their
benefits as far as developing countries are concerned. What is
your evidence, your judgment, of the possible role of PPPs in
Mr Cameron: The evidence is hearsay.
There are clearly some good examples of private partnerships but
they depend totally on which organisation is promoting them. How
strong is that organisation? How strong is the contract prepared
for the private partnership? To what extent is that partnership
developing and underpinned by the desire for corporate social
responsibility? If the contract is purely written on a profit
gain basis for the private investor, it is going to failand
it will fail because it is likely to disenfranchise the poorer
part of the poor people who cannot afford the new taxes and tariffs
that are imposed. So we have concern in that way. To some extent
we have seen overseas some possibly corrupt organisations promoting
private partnership as the way out of the problem, but, unless
the contract is written by someone separate to that, you are likely
just to make the situation worse.