Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from QinetiQ


  1.  QinetiQ is Europe's largest integrated R&D organisation, with nearly 9,000 employees throughout Britain, over 7,000 of them scientists and engineers and including some 1,000 PhDs. Their first degrees cover a wide range of disciplines, but there is a predominance of physics, mathematics, electronic engineering and computer science graduates. QinetiQ aims to recruit around 300 graduates each year (this year: 143 between April and September), and is thus one of the foremost employers of new science and technology graduates in the UK. The subject of the Committee's inquiry is thus of great importance to us.

  2.  QinetiQ offers a wide range of world-class capabilities to a customer base which is expanding steadily beyond its traditional defence business, both in the UK and globally. In order to maintain this position of excellence, it needs continually to maintain and enhance its staff of top-of-class science and technology graduates.


  3.  An assured supply of well-qualified and enthusiastic graduates is essential to the maintenance of a thriving modern economy and a sophisticated industrial base. The UK defence and security industries, with which QinetiQ is closely interlocked, enjoy a world-class reputation, and such an intake of science graduates from home universities is essential to the maintenance of that reputation.

  4.  For these industries to continue to compete on the world stage, they must offer challenging jobs to attract graduates and encourage sixth-formers to choose science and technology as an option when deciding their route through university. Increasingly the need to do this is recognised.

  5.  Although the SET for Success review, published in April 2002 by Sir Gareth Roberts, found an overall increase in students seeking science and technical qualifications, it also reported a downturn in the numbers following courses in physical sciences, mathematics and engineering. These trends would be worrying if continued over the medium term.

  6.  The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry recognised in launching the DTI's Five Year Programme Creating Wealth from Knowledge in November 2004 that science and technology are the key to Britain's continued industrial and economic success. It is implicit in her comments that enough graduates must be available in these fields for the science- and knowledge-based industries to achieve their potential.

  7.  These reports point to a single conclusion: that the future of "UK plc" is dependent on our competing successfully with rising science and technology capabilities in other countries, particularly in Asia. Unless we maintain and nurture our standards through higher education, particularly in maths, the sciences, technology and engineering, we will struggle to hold our ground in the world economy in 10 years' time.


  8.  Only high quality UK national science and engineering graduates can take the nation's defence technology industry forward to protect its defence interests in the future and maintain the UK's reputation in this field of expertise. Were the supply of UK national graduates from home universities in key scientific disciplines to dry up or their quality to deteriorate, vital research would, in time, simply not be done and Britain's ability to defend itself would be in jeopardy.

  9.   A particular issue for the UK knowledge base, in which the defence and security industries have a particular stake, is the propensity of many English universities to take students from overseas in preference to UK students. Oxford University is the latest to declare a reduction in places for British students and an increase on places for foreign students. While the Government has removed some barriers to overseas students remaining in the UK after completing their PhD, the overwhelming majority will at some stage in their career return home, taking the knowledge with them and strengthening the competitiveness of their overseas parent country.

  10.  While increasing the number of foreign students and researchers in UK universities has many desirable effects, it would be totally counterproductive if it were at the expense of UK nationals who would therefore be denied a role in important UK science base industries.


  11.  QinetiQ goes to great lengths to recruit graduates with high levels of attainment, a positive attitude and the potential to achieve, and has won awards for its recruitment campaigns from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, including the prestigious 2004 Grand Prix Award. Our presence at career fairs in universities is central to this, and the presentation of science and engineering to the young as a stimulating and enjoyable career to pursue is at the core of all such activity.

  12.  QinetiQ encourages students from an early age to take an interest in science, arranging school visits to its research centres and participating in competitions like Young Scientist of the Year. It is one of the most active companies in the Year in Industry programme, taking 37 students in the financial year to this April and winning the scheme's Best Partner award.

  13.  We are nevertheless finding it each year more difficult to recruit the necessary quality of staff and, unchecked, this is likely to become more and more of a problem until it becomes critical for us, the UK defence industry and British industry generally.

  14.  This experience confirms the conclusion of the SET for Success review that the "disconnect" between the strengthening demand for graduates on the one hand and the declining numbers of mathematics, engineering and physical science graduates on the other is starting to result in skills shortages. Initially this is felt at the bottom of the pyramid, but in due course it could work its way through to senior level.


  15.  Historically the government research establishments that now make up QinetiQ were responsible for the creative process which goes from scientific invention through to application in the field.

  16.  The decline of the MoD's research budget (having once been on a par with the OST budget, by 2006 it will be about one-seventh) has meant that the UK is now far more dependent upon university research yielding the basic insight from which QinetiQ scientists can explore the innovations which lead to the equipments which enable armed forces to be successful in their missions.

  17.  This is not well understood, nor is it compatible with the increasing overseas orientation of our universities.

February 2005

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