Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Kenneth Fleming, University of Oxford

  In response to your request for submissions on the above, as head of the Medical Sciences Division at the University of Oxford, I have three comments.

  1.  With regard to the mission of the NIMR, I would agree that a move in the direction of translational and clinical research is correct. However, it is also important to ensure that this does not diminish the importance of the basic science, since ultimately clinical applications rely on discoveries in the basic science arena. Furthermore, given the lack of previous track record, developing a translational and clinical research activity is a major ambition. It will require very significant change of culture and leadership. Apart from outstanding leadership, to achieve this will certainly need physical co-location and close interaction and integration with an organisation with a strong tradition and record of achievement in this arena.

  2.  Following from the above, remaining on the Mill Hill site would severely compromise the integration required. Therefore, the option of moving all of the activity onto another and more appropriate single site is superficially attractive. My preferred solution to the issue of co-location would be a distributed model involving higher educational institutes with the relevant skills and commitment and track record of achievement, both within and without London, the best locations being delivered by a competitive bidding process. However, given the current plans for a central London site, the scientific case for UCL is generally accepted as being stronger than that of Kings across a broader range of activities which are likely to be complementary with the current NIMR activities. Measuring this is, of course, not straightforward, but surrogates such as RAE scores and external peer-reviewed grant income would appear to support this. However, I understand the Council of the MRC will be analysing exactly these sort of measures in addressing the relative merits of UCL and Kings.

  3.  The other vital consideration is the financial case, both for capital and revenue. I do not know what is being proposed by Kings and UCL, but given the financial situation of the MRC, the final solution must be as cheap and cost-effective as possible. The MRC is currently unable to fund some of its most highest rated grant applications and, anything which makes this situation worse, is clearly against the best interests of the nation.

22 November 2004

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