Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Regional Developments Agencies (RDAs)

  1.  The RDAs welcome the opportunity to respond to this inquiry. The English RDAs share the concerns of the Science and Technology Committee about critical subject shortages, particularly in the sciences, which potentially have both national and regional impact.

  The RDAs can contribute to developing internationally regional and national knowledge economists, based on a sustainable and responsive SET base through:

    —  International benchmarking with the most dynamic competitive regions to evaluate our future business needs for science provision.

    —  Brokering collaboration between businesses and between business and the science base to stimulate innovation, enterprise and increase business research and development.

    —  Brokering greater university and college collaboration where needed, for capacity retention of disciplines of strategic significance for the economy of the region, for both research and teaching

    —  Recognising the different types of skills needed by the SET-based employees and facilitating coherent learning and skills solutions to meet these needs to increase the "supply chain" of scientists and technicians at regional level.

  2.  The Regional Developments Agencies Act 1998 gives the RDAs five statutory objectives:

    I.  To further economic development and regeneration;

    II.  To promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness;

    III.  To promote employment;

    IV.  To enhance the development and application of skills; and

    V.  To contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK.

  RDAs are business-led and recognise the importance of a strong science, engineering and technology (SET) base to developing and maintaining a healthy, dynamic and sustainable economy through their statutory objectives. This is increasingly reflected in Regional Economic Strategies (RES), and all RDAs have initiated Science and Industry Councils to provide strategic advice from business leaders, vice-chancellors and other key partners such as research councils. The RES focus on delivering sustainable economic development, including increasing productivity through developing competitive, knowledge based economies. Strategic science provision in the universities has a direct impact on the all these objectives. The skills supply is one of the five key drivers of productivity (along with investment, competition, enterprise and innovation), and the regions are fully aware of the importance of a strong and responsive SET base in supporting knowledge-driven economies that promote economic and sustainable development, regeneration, business competitiveness, and high value-added employment.

  In the five years since their establishment, the RDAs have made an increasing strategic and financial commitment to the science base. The RDAs currently spend around £0.25 billion per annum on the Science and Technology base. [House of Lords Inquiry "SETting the Regional Agenda". 2003]. The primary focus of this support is to stimulate business-driven research, knowledge transfer, enterprise and innovation. The new 2005 tasking framework for the RDAs will include targets for knowledge transfer (KT) through increasing the number of businesses collaborating with the knowledge base (including HEIs, and PSREs), and also increasing innovation in businesses. This will assist the government's 10-year target of increasing Business Expenditure on R&D (from 1.24% GDP to 1.9% GDP). To meet this target business expenditure on R&D needs to increase by some £12 billion pa, stimulated by the increase in government spending on the SET base. RDAs are taking on the new "Lambert" role to articulate business need for closer working with the knowledge base in their corporate plans for 2005-2008 through specifically refocused and targeted resources.

  The RDAs have a long-term perspective, working on 10 to 20 year forecasting frameworks through their Regional Economic Strategies, and are concerned about the projected shortages of scientists and the implications for employers. While some welcome initiatives to address the shortage of scientists have been introduced by the government in the 10-year investment framework, more needs to be done, and greater regional participation is needed.

  3.  Data and intelligence available on the supply of scientists has led to growing concerns. Royal Society of Chemistry data shows that there are only around. 3,000 students pa starting Chemistry degrees, with some marked regional variations. The Functional Sustainability sub-group of the Funders' Forum has expressed concerns in a study of the sustainability of the research base this month. This highlights the need for a parallel study of business and industry research, where less information is available. Forecasts of SET teacher recruitment and retention are raising concerns at regional level. Many large and multi-national employers that RDAs engage with refer to SET skills provision as a key factor in their location in the UK and particular regions. These companies are responsible for much of the R&D spend in the UK, so if the SET skills supply dries up then much R&D could move elsewhere, with significant consequences for the 2.5% GVA target for R&D. The supply of PhD students in SET subjects may be at least as critical as the supply of graduates where we do not compare well with major competitors for researchers in employment. To reach the 2.5% R&D target, an estimated 50,000 additional UK researchers are needed.

  4.  Where UK recruitment is difficult, multi-national employers (and University research departments) can attract high quality graduates and postgraduates from other countries, but this raises concerns about long-term sustainability. At the same time UK graduates without first class degrees may find employment opportunities difficult to find in science based industries and may look for employment elsewhere. This suggests the problem at least currently, is as much one of graduate quality as of quantity, and the fit between employer needs and course provision.


  5.  The HEFCE research funding formula as applied to the RAE ratings appears to have a negative impact for science departments, through the low weightings for departments with grade 4 (or less) and for laboratory based science research. The allocation formula could benefit from a rethink as it does not reflect the full cost of these subjects or take account of the potential impact of these subjects on economic development and international competitiveness.

  The cross-subsidy of research funding to teaching outputs by eg postgraduate demonstrators, use of research equipment and project work alongside research groups will impact on the ability of science departments to survive. Universities that do not have significant research income may find it difficult to deliver quality teaching. This may be more starkly apparent in the light of the transparency review which draws attention to the high Full Economic Cost of sciences.

  6.  The research and teaching factors can reinforce each other, since undergraduate recruitment to departments with grade 4 or lower RAE ratings may be adversely affected, leading to applications with lower A-level point scores, which will impact on the universities Performance Indicators.


  7.  Positive effects of research concentration may result if this leads to remaining departments being more likely to have a stronger international profile, as top scientists concentrate in fewer departments. Against this there may be some reduction in breadth and flexibility of the system. A good geographical distribution of research-led departments is important for good business (especially SME)—HE collaboration across all regions, as well (see below) as access for students who wish or need to study near to home.

  8.  All universities should carry out research but not all universities should do research in every subject. There is a case for ensuring that all universities have baseline research funding (cf PCFC funds) to allow excellence to be nurtured wherever it occurs alongside baseline third leg funding (eg HEIF) to allow responsiveness to businesses to be developed in all universities. There is also potential for more university collaboration at regional and cross-regional levels, perhaps through hub and spokes models, focussed around a small number of globally competitive departments. This could increase the visibility, accessibility and responsiveness of the research base to business needs and near market research. The possibilities for staff in the spokes to carry out research in the hubs transfer could have a beneficial effect in raising aspirations.


  9.  The impact of weightings of teaching allocations for science subjects should be addressed in the context of:

    —  How many students and what type of degrees are needed?

    —  How Science Research Infrastructure Funding (SRIF) allocations can be more coherently linked to sustainability?

    —  The extent to which research and teaching funding mutually reinforce and cross-subsidise.

  A more detailed regional perspective is given below (paragraph 10). However well-found laboratories are important and necessary for undergraduate science teaching, to produce research-oriented graduates, advanced technicians able to meet the needs of cutting edge technologies, schoolteachers and scientific entrepreneurs also need to understand and be exposed to the excitement of the subject at the forefront of developments if they are to communicate this to school students or identify advances leading to new products. Consequently it is essential that the teaching allocation weightings for such economically important laboratory-based sciences as physics, chemistry and biology need to be high enough to meet these needs.


  10.  Research/teaching balance and teaching only science departments. There are some outstanding teachers who are not active researchers and in principle such departments could exist, but they would struggle with market perceptions of quality, and would not have the funding and infrastructure to expose students to modern equipment and laboratory techniques. The hub and spokes model referred to above may help, and we would prefer to regard the "spokes" as "less research-intensive" departments. These departments might be suitable to teach advanced technical skills, where there are significant shortages in some regions (see below), but partnership with the hubs and businesses would be necessary. For example pairing "spokes" with research-intensive departments or companies to provide "laboratory summer schools" might deal with some of the practical costs.

The Importance of Maintaining a Regional Capacity in University Science Teaching and research:

  11.  Regional capacity—there are several issues to be considered:

    —  Regions attach importance to economic development through spin-off and licensing activities of universities, and technology transfer is often most effective at a regional level. Increasing support by universities to provide solutions for local SMEs will be promoted and brokered by the RDAs in their new knowledge transfer role. The retention of capacity in regional universities of disciplines of strategic significance will be needed for the current and future economy of that region.

    —  A key message from the Lambert report was that the need to increase local business-university collaboration is as important as collaboration with university departments with global status. The location of a university collaborating with businesses depends on the geography of the firms' market and the level of technology. 88 % of companies with local markets use local universities, as do 47 % of companies with regional markets (Community Innovation Survey 2001, quoted in the Lambert report). Even for international markets 26 % of companies use a local university

    —  Students who wish to study from home or "near to home" will be disadvantaged by the lack of a nearby department. There appears to be a steady rise, of around 1-2 % pa, in the numbers of students studying from home, and the incoming changes in fees are more likely to increase these numbers. Social class disparities in HE participation are still strong, and targeting increased recruitment in areas of deprivation will bring in students who may be the first in their family to study at HE level, and may be less likely to study away from home.

    —  The increasingly tight labour market resulting from demographic trends will create a growing need for work-based learning and continuing professional development. Regional Skills Partnerships have all highlighted the need to invest more in the existing workforce as a priority. Even where employment is high skills are not at a high enough level. Qualified scientists need to continue to learn to remain fully effective, and there may be several regions or sub-regions where companies will not be close to relevant HE departments.

    —  Not all students are full-time—part-time students account for around 44% of the total entrants to HE and 95 % of part-time students are mature. There are limits to how far such employed students are able or willing to travel, especially if they are parents. Distance learning (pioneered by the Open University) can make an important contribution, supported by laboratory-based summer schools at other universities. Provision also needs to be available to respond to more local employer needs, and these may need to have flexible delivery arrangements, such as innovative ways of delivering part-time undergraduate courses in the work place.

    —  Increasingly Universities are committed to promoting entrepreneurial graduates. Such graduates benefit from structured interactions between business students and engineering and science students.

    —  There is a need for different kinds of scientist, including high quality graduates and PhDs for fundamental R&D, and advanced technicians (technologists). The current secondary and tertiary education system does not produce enough of these technologists with excellent technical skills. They need to have the ability to "move atoms around", develop high throughput technologies or help make precision instrumentation for satellites, lasers, magnetic resonance imaging scanners etc RDAs are made aware through employer engagement (including science and industry councils) of these needs. Such training cannot all be gained in university laboratories and may require work-based learning, using industry's instrumentation, with university accreditation of the training.

The Extent to which the Government should Intervene to Ensure Continuing Provision of Subjects of Strategic National or Regional Importance, and the Mechanisms it should use for that Purpose:

  12.  Intervention may be possible in several ways, and we note progress has started through the implementation of the Roberts review and the 10-year framework, eg the greater support and inducement for teachers of science, and the need to connect the many small initiatives on SET for schools into a more coherent critical mass to have lasting impact. However we need more intelligence and understanding on where to make the best interventions. Government should not intervene at a local or regional level. It may be appropriate to set targets as an indicator of how successful interventions have been. National targets set by HEFCE could be brokered at a local level to encourage matching of supply and demand and effective use of resources.

  There are several critical intervention points in the "supply chain":

    —  Graduate choice—some 40 % of chemistry graduates become chemists. This is fairly typical, the percentage for civil engineering graduates is about the same. It may be possible to influence undergraduate career choice to increase this percentage. The RSC and CIHE analysed what chemistry graduates do several years ago. An update of this report could identify how career structures may be changing, and how feasible such influencing might be.

    —  The Lambert Review recommendation 8.2 was that the Sector Skills Councils should have real influence over university courses and curricula. Otherwise they will fail to have an impact on addressing employers' needs for undergraduates and postgraduates. RDAs can also play a brokering role between employers and universities.

    —  Careers advice—careers advice in schools is poor. Careers advisors need support and the tools to help them to understand and advise on the changing and complex needs of industry.

    —  Technical routes—As mentioned above, schools should work with employers and universities to develop and promote high status routes for advanced technicians. The new 14-19 curriculum could be used to facilitate this. Highly trained technicians are in strong demand, for example many technicians trained in the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories find better paid employment in nearby Formula 1 teams. There is a lack of awareness of such career prospects in schools, where the nature of the modern "technician"" in under-appreciated. One route might be for employers to recruit technical staff, as early as 16, and develop them by part time study and accredited work-based learning to NVQ3, degree and even masters level (Master of Technology?). Such a route would need to have high status and a more flexible approach to delivery, perhaps through the Lifelong Learning Networks (LLNs) being piloted by HEFCE. These LLNs aim to establish vocational and workplace progression into and through higher education, involve both colleges and universities. LLNs could provide part-time course with accredited work-based learning, and increasingly, virtual work experience (eg 3-D virtual reality to study engine design).

    —  Schoolteacher support and development—There are many initiatives aimed at helping science teaching in schools, but there is a great need to join these initiatives up—to provide a necklace for the beads—to reduce confusion, and increase impact. There should be one point of contact for schools for SETNET, professional body initiatives, Young Foresight, education-business partnerships, the DfES/Wellcome funded Science Learning Centres (SLCs) and so on, including, additionally, science promotion, role models and media campaigns aimed at schools. This may be most appropriate at a regional level as SETpoints, like SLCs, become regionally based, and RDAs are exploring (with Sir Gareth Roberts) how they should contribute.

    —  The new SLCs are an excellent initiative, but to be fully effective staff release to attend courses needs to be encouraged. Schools are reluctant to release science teachers because they cannot get cover, and do not want to compromise teaching quality through staff absence. Science teachers (and heads) need inducements to attend courses whether financial (eg bursaries for schools and perhaps "locums" to provide cover) or through a subject-oriented CPD framework for SET teachers.

    —  Influencing subject choice early—before the age of 13 is critical, as many students have already switched off science. Primary school teachers need more support, and greater coordination with early secondary teaching in communicating the excitement of science. We know that we need to make science fun and exciting at this stage, but progress could be faster. We may be able to learn from parallel initiatives such as Computer Clubs for Girls. Improved careers advice is essential, and better use of information technology can show more widely what SET employment is really like and just how many career options are available.


  The RDAs agree there is a problem in the supply of scientists to be addressed. We need to understand not just how many scientists are needed but what types are needed and how they are best trained to the right levels of quality and fitness for purpose. We cannot afford to underestimate this need, or we risk losing the strong UK R&D base to other countries. We need enough:

    1.  PhD research scientists comparable with the best internationally.

    2.  Scientific entrepreneurs

    3.  Science teachers (preferably with practical appreciation of industry and R&D)

    4.  Advanced technicians (technologists)

  We also acknowledge that SET graduates have much to offer other professions for example:

    5.  Scientists whose reasoning and advanced numeracy skills make them valuable in other occupations eg finance.

    6.  Scientists who become future managers and leaders.

  The RDAs, with the advice of the new science and industry councils and regional skills partnerships, recognise that they have a role to play. This includes providing intelligence to inform the skills needs of regional (and collectively, national) economies, and through partnership working to broker greater collaboration between universities, schools and businesses, and government agencies to meet these needs. Universities have primarily national and international roles. However there are areas where regional needs and university aspirations (and those of employers and representative bodies such as Sector Skills Councils) can be aligned, and these included ensuring that strategic subjects of importance to regional economic development are maintained at appropriate levels. The Lambert review recommendation 8.3 was that HEFCE should "consider whether the UK university system is producing the right balance of graduates in the disciplines that make the economy work", and this Inquiry may mark an important step forward in these considerations.

January 2005


  1.  Royal Society of Chemistry—Regional and devolved administrations scoping study 2004 (draft report).

  2.  Funders' Forum 25 January 2004.

  3.  TTA Letter December 2004

  4.  OECD data for 2001.

Researchers per 1,000 total

EU average

  5.  NWDA are collecting data on the changes across different science UOAs since 2000, and the management response in different universities.

  6.  University of Lille hub and spokes model. IUT lecturers carry out research on Lille campuses during vacations.

  7.  HEFCE regional consultant 2004.

  8.  HESA data for 2003-03 entry to HE. For England there were 227,260 part-time entrants (95% mature) and 293,395 entrants.

  9.  Pfizer's scheme with the University of Greenwich. Students are taught one day a week in the Pfizer training centre and attend intensive laboratory weeks at the university for the first two years of undergraduate study (to HNC level).

  10.  There are many good examples including the Science Enterprise Centre at Oxford where science students are encouraged to work with MBA students in the Business Plan Competition. From the US, examples include the Dingman School of Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland where business, engineering and science students share a dorm and work together, and the highly innovative Olin College of Engineering in Boston which integrates a project-based approach to learning with entrepreneurship studies (and the arts) at Babson College.

  11.  National Institute of Social and Economic Research report (Geoff Mason) to the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Council for Industry and Higher Education. March 1998.

  12.  For example the "e-Skills degree" in Information Technology Management. SEEDA and e-Skills UK have worked with universities to develop a degree course to meet employer needs more closely.

  13.  For example Project VIEW (Virtual Interactive Employer Workplace) under development. Addenbrookes Hospital has a road show to emphasise how many different occupations there are for scientists in the health service (ca 46).

  14.  Examples include Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) was developed be SEEDA and e-Skills UK to promote enthusiasm for computing and the application of IT for 11-12 year old girls. Nearly 4000 girls enrolled in the pilot. The success of the scheme has led DfES to fund rollout to all regions.

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