Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 177)



  Q160  Chairman: Does that answer the question?

  Mr Bekhradnia: No, it does not. It does not talk about how many science graduates we need. In fact, it goes so far as to say that that sort of detailed manpower planning is probably unhelpful. What it does say is that if you want to be a knowledge economy, you cannot become a knowledge economy without producing sufficient graduates, but producing sufficient graduates is not going to be sufficient to make you into a knowledge economy; you need all sorts of other things in place as well. That begs the question: what sort of graduates do you want? Is it necessarily the case that more science and engineering graduates will turn you into a knowledge economy, or would you be better off with more—

  Q161  Chairman: Can you ever have too many graduates, in your opinion? You are hesitating.

  Mr Bekhradnia: I am only hesitating because of the tone in which you put the question. My view is that you cannot have too much education. I think that a better-educated person is a better person, by and large; and so I rejoice when I see more people coming through school.

  Q162  Chairman: You are not answering my question.

  Mr Bekhradnia: Sorry, I am trying to be helpful—I am getting there. The answer is that you cannot have too many graduates. You cannot have too many A-Level entrants. I am thrilled that there are more and more people staying on at 16 doing A-Levels and then going on to get a degree. What would you say to people otherwise—"sorry, no, stop; we are not going to let you carry on to do any more education; that is it; you have had too much education already"? That is not sustainable.

  Q163  Dr Iddon: Why has nobody mentioned the importance of a university to its local economy? If a small or medium-sized enterprise has nowhere to go for advice—no chemistry department, no physics department, no engineering department—and we are teaching forensic science and chiropody and physiotherapy, what does that do to our economy?

  Mr Bekhradnia: Those are legitimate issues that do need to be taken into account in looking at this question, I agree.

  Q164  Dr Iddon: So you agree that perhaps we are looking at the wrong things.

  Mr Bekhradnia: No, I am saying this is another of the issues. There are many different factors that need to be taken into account in looking at this question. The importance of universities in a local economy must be one of them. It is something that has only recently become recognised.

  Q165  Mr Key: Chairman, I apologise for missing part of this session. I have had to sit on two select committees at once this afternoon. Are there any circumstances in which the Government should prop up ailing science departments?

  Mr Bekhradnia: If by "ailing" you mean not very good, and if by "the Government" you mean through the Government grant to the university, then I think the university might take a strategic decision that it wants to use some of its grant from HEFCE—

  Q166  Mr Key: That is not what I asked, is it? I asked should the Government step in.

  Mr Bekhradnia: I would say rarely. I cannot think of a situation where that would be—

  Q167  Mr Key: So that is a "no".

  Mr Bekhradnia: It is an almost "no". I hope that you would not want to ask that question definitively without the evidence.

  Chairman: Go on, Bahram, come off the fence!

  Q168  Mr Key: Would it be beneficial for UK research if the UK had a small number of top-ranking departments that could compete on a world stage?

  Mr Bekhradnia: I think it does by and large, yes—and it is beneficial to the UK, of course.

  Q169  Mr Key: At the price of the ailing departments in other universities.

  Mr Bekhradnia: To some extent, of course, that is what happens. That is what the research assessment exercise and the selective research funding does; it withdraws money from some and gives it to the others.

  Q170  Mr Key: Do you think there should be some teaching-only science departments in our universities, where it is reckoned that research is not a great strength?

  Mr Bekhradnia: I think there are.

  Q171  Mr Key: Is it desirable?

  Mr Bekhradnia: It does not have to be an issue. I do not think that the quality of the teaching need suffer as a result of—

  Chairman: I wish I had the quotes from the last Secretary of State for Education.

  Q172  Mr Key: Why does it not have to be an issue?

  Mr Bekhradnia: Because I do not think it follows that because you do not do research you cannot teach.

  Q173  Mr Key: But do you not get the impression that some of our universities and some of our science departments are now perceiving themselves to be second-rate, and are saying, "all right, then" and shrugging their shoulders, saying, "let us not bother with research; let us just be teaching science departments"?

  Mr Bekhradnia: I doubt if that is what they are doing, but, yes, there are some teaching—

  Q174  Mr Key: They are saying that.

  Mr Bekhradnia: That they are not very good, "let us not bother"?

  Q175  Mr Key: Yes.

  Mr Bekhradnia: I doubt it, but I think there are teaching-only science departments, and I know of no evidence that they do not do a good job in teaching their students.

  Q176  Mr Key: No-one has suggested that they do not, but it would be quite a departure if the entire structure of the funding of science and research in this country were to somehow have failed—a significant number of university science departments, to actually encourage them to think that that was a good idea.

  Mr Bekhradnia: That is a statement—yes, okay.

  Q177  Mr Key: Do you agree with it?

  Mr Bekhradnia: No.

  Chairman: Bahram, it is always a pleasure! Thank you for your frankness in answering our questions.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 11 April 2005