Memorandum from AstraZeneca
1. The UK economy is dependent for its success
upon the innovations made, predominately, by the pharmaceutical
and aerospace sectors. Companies within these sectors rely on
the UK science base for supply of trained scientists and engineers
and the dynamic interactions with academia that engender the creation
of ideas and promote innovation. In order to sustain a vibrant
and flourishing environment for economic growth it is imperative
that the teaching of SET subjects and provision for sustainable
research in universities, to international standards, is given
high priority and pursued rigorously.
2. We strongly recommend that the Government
takes a holistic approach to science education from primary level,
through secondary and higher education and develops a cohesive
strategy that delivers the quality outputs required by companies
operating in the UK, namely excellent scientists and engineers.
Focus on one part of the education system may lead to imbalance
in other parts and not produce the solution initially expected.
It is critically important that teaching and research are not
disconnected as it is only through research-informed teaching
that the UK can continue to develop gifted scientists for the
3. AstraZeneca is pleased to make a contribution
to this important inquiry and welcomes the opportunity to discuss
this topic with you in greater detail than this brief response
4. The recent changes in HEFCE's research
funding formulae are unhelpful. They have directed funding towards
the 5 and 5* rated departments at the expense of those departments
rated 4 and to the detriment of scientific research in the UK.
The amount of funding is inadequate to sustain an internationally
competitive science base. In most fields of scientific research
that are of current importance, the highest level of equipment
and infrastructure is required in order to compete at an international
level: this is very expensive. The changes in the funding formulae
have already resulted in closure of a number of university physical
science departments notably at Newcastle and Exeter universities.
If this trend continues, we will face a situation where we lose
critical mass in many of the physical sciences subjects, a situation
from which it would be extremely difficult to recover.
5. The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)
provides a measure of research quality that is useful when determining
where to place research collaborations in the absence of any other
knowledge. However, we question the value of the RAE when it becomes
disconnected from the overall university education process. We
are resolute in our belief that the RAE should recognise industry-sponsored
research and industry outputs such as patents in addition to joint
publications. It is our view that the RAE has resulted in teaching
in universities becoming downgraded in importance. One example
of this is Salford University. Although not strongly rated for
its research capability, Salford has excellent chemistry teaching
departments and has provided AstraZeneca with many excellent students
6. Concentrating research within a reduced
number of university departments would be to the detriment of
SET teaching and research in the UK. However, we do recognise
that it would be both inefficient and unreasonable to have a large
number of very expensive departments, each with a relatively low
volume of research output.
A small number of large departments would not
provide a suitable career structure for UK scientists compared
to that which exists today. One consequence of this is likely
to be that scientists leave the UK to pursue careers overseas
and that the UK becomes a less attractive place in which to conduct
research. This would lead to a lack of investment in the UK by
companies due to the reduction in the quality of the UK science
7. It is important to maintain both sufficient
critical mass and quality teaching and research in SET subjects,
in order to provide the calibre of scientist required to pursue
research that is of international standard. A range of skills
across all disciplines is required to produce a vibrant and sustainable
research environment. This is unlikely to be the case if there
a fewer universities.
Any rationalisation of research provision needs
to be better managed and co-ordinated within England and Wales.
For the reasons above, it is imperative that we also have a funding
system that enables the UK to maintain good teaching departments
throughout the country.
8. In addition, there is a danger in focussing
funding too sharply. To have only five or six research departments
in one subject, for example, chemistry, runs the risk of developing
too narrow an academic resource pool, which would be unhealthy.
9. We do believe that there is merit in
encouraging universities to collaborate in order to capitalise
on their relative strengths. The concept of regional universities
collaborating in chemistry or physics for example may offer a
genuine solution, eg the East Midlands. The Government's recent
announcement to create "science cities' is an ideal platform
on which to promote collaboration between universities using "science
councils' as the conduit. In the North West region the NW science
council has been particularly successful in this respect.
10. We are very disappointed that HEFCE
has chosen to reduce the multiplier for clinical subjects from
4.5 to 4 and laboratory-based science, engineering and technology
from 2 to 1.7. The consequence of this is a reduction in funding
relative to the arts and humanities. We appreciate the requirement
to broaden participation but feel that the multiplier for SET
subjects should not have been eroded. Clinical and laboratory
based subjects are obviously more costly than classroom based
subjects, but practical experience is a key requirement of the
science education process. Too often the practical component of
degree courses is minimised in order to save costs to the detriment
of the education received by the student.
11. It is now relatively more expensive
to teach science subjects in university than it was in the past.
Nearly all Chemistry Departments conduct undergraduate teaching
at a loss, and recoup the shortfall through HEFCE research funding.
In chemistry, more stringent requirements for chemical handling,
exposure and disposal have been particularly significant. New
chemical handling requirements have also meant that the standard
of many university teaching laboratories is totally inadequate.
The expense of refurbishment of labs is considerable.
12. A significant and immediate increase
in the per-capita funding of chemistry undergraduates is required
to avoid the risk of severe curtailment of chemistry provision
in the UK. Recently HEFCE were asked to address this issue, but
failed to restructure undergraduate funding in a way that would
have given sufficient funding to cover the cost of teaching science
subjects. Real-cost funding is required now.
13. Teaching undergraduate science has to
be made profitable in order to encourage Vice-Chancellors to support
it in the long-term. The resource provided by HEFCE is inadequate
to cover the full cost of providing sciences courses and results
in pressure on universities to abandon subjects such as chemistry
and/or close departments. One result of which is a decrease in
the number of talented and enthusiastic scientists and teachers.
If this trend continues and culminates in a downward spiral then
the ability of companies to recruit highly talented employees
from the UK will be severely affected.
14. It is vitally important that science
teaching is not separated from research since if left unchecked
this will result in a further decline in the standards of teaching
of SET subjects in the UK and a decline in the number of students
entering the system, to the severe detriment the UK science base.
15. A SET policy framework needs to be developed
which has good quality metrics and measures of assessment for
the balance of research and teaching, both of which are important
to the higher education SET base.
16. There is a clear interdependence between
teaching and research. Research-informed teaching is instrumental
in driving forward the boundaries of science and developing motivated
scientists who will in turn enthuse the next generation of scientists
and teachers. Learning from research projects is also an important
part of the undergraduate curriculum. Teachers who continue their
professional development through involvement in research, keep
up to date and provide enthusiasm and relevance in their teaching
and will continue to inspire young people.
In addition to further financial resource, lecturers
should be allowed more time for teaching and curriculum development.
17. We suggest that consideration is given
to a change in the composition of departments to include Research
led departments, Research/Teaching and Teaching only departments,
with a select number of world-class Research led departments,
and a higher number of Research/Teaching and Teaching only departments.
The important drivers are the quality of the teaching, the content
of science course and that the UK continues to be a leader in
18. Departments that provide good teaching
in addition to some research should be encouraged. These departments
should be judged on the overall value of their provision, not
just on research quality or the level of research income. Such
departments can provide a valuable stepping-stone for talented
researchers who later move on to be successful in bigger research
departments. Chemistry departments such as Bath, Exeter, Salford,
have typically provided this function. Sadly, of these departments,
only Bath still survives.
19. Departments that can attract a significant
number of students and show that they produce high quality science
graduates, who are well regarded by employers and by research
universities should be rewarded. However, some universities now
run "diluted" science courses, which are cheaper to
teach and sound more appealing to the uninformed student than
straight chemistry. In our opinion, such courses (despite their
branding), do not provide graduates with the skills or depth of
understanding that employers demand. These courses should be targeted
for consolidation as they lack value and relevance for industry.
20. The research led departments will continue
to be major providers of chemistry graduates. However, their teaching
tends to be geared towards high-calibre students who start university
with strong academic backgrounds and good preparation.
21. Unfortunately, at a time when much is
made of widening participation and improving access, it is those
universities that provided genuine opportunities for students
from less privileged backgrounds, who were less well prepared
for university, that are losing their chemistry departments. If
this continues Chemistry will become an "elite" subject,
only taught in the universities that are virtually inaccessible
to students that have not fully developed their academic skills
at age 18.
22. Recognising teaching excellence as a
key output of universities alongside research, may be profitable
over the short term. The majority of academics compete for research
funding a priori, as this is a core purpose. Teaching excellence
is too often perceived as secondary to research success. By providing
recognition of teaching excellence (and a career structure in
line with this), academics would chose to become research leaders
or teaching leaders, and help to meet the primary drivers above.
23. It should be remembered that departments
within universities and/or institutes may have excellent teaching
capabilities although the universities may not be 5 or 5* rated
in terms of research. It is crucial to the UK science community
and the UK science base as a whole that such departments receive
funding appropriate to their international standing in teaching.
Moreover, there must be strong discouragement to those institutions
that achieve a high RAE ranking at the expense of neglect of teaching.
24. This point has been addressed to some
extent in item 2 above.
Regional universities play an important part
in the local economy providing employment and associated benefits
in addition to fulfilling their primary purpose of teaching and
25. It is important to retain teaching and
research capacity in regional universities and to ensure that
such universities are strong and well funded. A good geographic
spread of institutions will act as focal points and attract able
students into science. If we move to a situation where financial
considerations mean that more students live at home, we must ensure
that each region has a share of quality universities. The funding
system should reward collaboration between universities in order
to ensure that financial resources are used optimally.
26. Many students increasingly attend universities
in their region and, if we are not to deny them the opportunity
to study SET subjects, there must be provision for sciences throughout
the country. Departments that concentrate on teaching could play
a big part in encouraging young people into science. If there
is not local provision they will study other subjects that are
less beneficial to the UK economy. Therefore, it is an imperative
that regional capacity in science teaching continues.
27. In the past, many students obtained
science degrees by studying (often part-time), at Further Education
colleges and polytechnics. These institutions used to offer rigorous
chemistry courses, which were ratified by RSC (eg GRSC inter
alia) or CNAA. The provision of such courses at these local
colleges has essentially disappeared and universities are the
only institutions that can take this place, but at present there
are relatively few courses that satisfy this void.
28. The biomedical research base underpins
future drug discovery and development. The ability to sustain
and develop the UK biomedical research base will bring positive
benefits to the UK economy.
In order to sustain a world-class organisation
of scientific excellence AstraZeneca has an absolute requirement
for creative and innovative individuals with extensive scientific
knowledge. In some disease areas, we struggle to find graduates
and PhDs of the required standard and in sufficient number to
provide us with a choice.
29. It is important to recognise that the
demands of the pharmaceutical industry for new graduates and PhDs
does fluctuate. Consequently it is difficult to plan for a constantly
changing recruitment scenario. Communication of our skills requirement
to academia in a realistic time frame to enable courses to be
developed (BSc, MSc) to address any shortages, coupled with the
requirement for experienced tutors in such areas is a difficult
process. The demands of our business require both innovative experts
in new/emerging areas in addition to those core or mature fields
eg pharmacology, enzymology. Reconciling such supply and demand
for new recruits is not straightforward.
30. In particular we are experiencing a
deficit in the number of individuals who are willing to work with
animals, an acute lack of graduate and PhD in vivo pharmacologists,
a paucity of scientists in areas of integrative science such as
drug metabolism and pharmocokinetics and diminishing numbers of
suitably qualified chemists, toxicologists, post-graduate pharmacists
and pathologists. Furthermore we are concerned that the level
of numeracy displayed by an increasing number of graduates over
the last 10 years has decreased. As a consequence many graduates
do not possess the level of mathematical ability required to pursue
a scientific career in the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical
industry routinely uses in silico prediction, cellular and pathway
modelling which require extensive theoretical appreciation of
biochemical mechanisms. However, bioscience students are not equipped
with sufficient mathematical and physical knowledge and skills
necessary to perform effectively in these key areas. This pressing
weakness within the UK system must be addressed urgently by government.
31. The impoverished mathematics training
in the UK is of great concern to us. This problem appears to begin
early in the education process at primary and secondary levels,
such that degree course candidates are less well equipped with
mathematical skills on entry into university. Consequently, they
graduate poorly prepared for theoretical problem solving required
by the pharmaceutical industry. This situation will be further
exacerbated as the pharmaceutical industry moves towards an increasing
"in silico"/predictive era. This situation is not sustainable
and the ability of the pharmaceutical industry to remain competitive
will be affected. The paucity of excellent mathematics teachers
coupled with a lack of recognition of the value of applied mathematics
in the school curriculum are key contributory factors. Mathematics
is critical to scientific performance and should be a cornerstone
of the education system. To rectify this position requires urgent
government action in training, recruiting and rewarding appropriately
32. It is our firm view that the Government
should provide both the funding framework and strategic direction
in order to maintain the science capability critically required
for biomedical research in the UK. Government should not direct
individual universities, but should create the framework and provide
the infrastructure and funding such that the Vice-Chancellors,
supported by Council can lead their university in pursuit of a
comprehensive science and education strategy. Graduate courses
curriculum should be based on national needs linked to a clear
strategy and not on market forces driven by students as "customers"
rather than "products" of higher education.
33. We recommend that government encourages
Vice-Chancellors to continue to run science courses by making
it financially viable for them to do so by improving the weighting
of science subjects. Furthermore, development of criteria for
what constitutes a "top-rated" university department
in Chemistry, Physics, Maths should be developed. The government
could also provide regional incentives and objectives for universities
in certain parts of the country to provide science provision.
If universities, (unlike Exeter which demonstrated 115 good chemistry
applicants in 2004), are not meeting regional demands, then they
could face penalties.
34. The Government should work with industry
and academia to review the entire science education system in
the UK and ensure that it is "fit for purpose". A holistic
analysis of the many changes affecting science education from
schools through to graduate and postgraduate education needs to
be undertaken. This should be related to a government strategy
for UK science education and biomedical research. Following this,
measures need to be put in place within schools and universities
(with assistance from industry) to ensure that relevant and quality
teaching and research in biomedical science is maintained.
35. Specifically, greater funding should
be made available for core disciplines such as chemistry, physical
sciences, mathematics and the biomedical sciences. Science teaching
and research must be conducted in well equipped schools and universities.
36. Focussed investment in science education
at all levels, primary, secondary, graduate and post-graduate,
against a clear set of objectives is required. Coupled with greater
involvement of industry in curriculum design, course content and
application, this should create an exceptional education system
and vibrant research environment for young people and reinvigorate
interest in science subjects.
37. Incentives, rewards and continuous professional
development for SET teachers need to be developed. We strongly
recommend that the government substantially increase the salary
and other benefits of properly trained mathematics and science
teachers even if this leads to a differential of teachers' salary.
Improving opportunities for continuous professional development,
coupled with greater pay and benefits of SET teaching are some
of the most fundamental ways of promoting SET education and inspiring
young people to enter into SET careers.
38. Industry, academia and Government must
continue to work together to ensure that the biomedical research
base in the UK is well funded, produces excellent research and
superior teaching, is sustainable and an attractive place to conduct
We hope that this brief response is helpful
to you in your aspiration to create a world-class science base
in the UK.