Problem communicating with remote server...
Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): The Chancellor has obviously been spending his time at Cape Cod in Massachusetts to the benefit of this country by talking to people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about subjects such as innovation and the creation of new products and so on. He has brought that to this country in an interaction at Cambridge university with MIT, whereby young people can interplay between the two institutions on their courses, come up with new, bright ideas and show a way forward for international co-operation in research. Again, that is mirrored across the world, as we find that published papers on industrial and scientific matters include the names of people not just from one country, but sometimes from 12 countries.

A huge amount of interaction is going on. Academics are pretty good at knowing who is doing similar work, interacting with one another, deciding who is best at it and so on. I serve on a Department of Trade and Industry taskforce committee, and the Government are now considering which countries to interact with in different areas of scientific endeavour on everything from cancer research and health services to innovation and the development of various products.
 
27 Mar 2006 : Column 625
 

The innovation agenda is not easy to carry out—it is a very complex process—and I want to concentrate partly on the education end of it. It is easy to have very bright young people making inventions, publishing information and getting it out into the world, but few countries have been able to turn what they find out into a product that is interesting and useful for society.

In this country, we talked for a long time about spin-out companies and we looked at those companies around Cambridge, Oxford, Newcastle, Manchester and Dundee. The figures show that this country has had more spin-out companies than anywhere else in the world in the past few years. There is no doubt about that, but the problem is that not one of them has turned into what we think of as a success: a big pharmaceutical company. Those companies are successes—they produce new products, such as vaccines and so on.

This may not be appetising to Opposition Members, but we should applaud the collaboration and interaction between this country and Cuba, which is developing various vaccines. There is now an attitude in this country, which has not been present for some time, that we should interact with those other economies to produce products not just for our own country, but for other countries as well. That is to be applauded, and the Government have been part of that approach.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) said, we are doing something similar in the field of climate change, where new technologies are being developed—under pressure, of course, to bring down our CO 2 emissions, which is happening. Microgeneration and new homes with solar panels, as the Chancellor said, are very much part of understanding the science and technology engineering that is now available to improve the lot of not just our people, but people across the world.

All that is part of a magic paper produced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Science and innovation investment framework 2004–2014: next steps", but it is not a blueprint. We are not saying that we will carry out a, b, c and d, right through to z. There are experimental areas where we can improve, but there is a recognition that has never been known before in my experience of politics in this country.

I spent my time as Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology trying to find out who spoke on science and technology for the Opposition parties. I could never find anyone. They must recognise the problems associated with such issues, but the Government have recognised them for some time now and are putting more resources and effort into them.

Innovation is a complex process to undertake. One of the factors is a well-trained, highly motivated and well-funded scientific and technological work force in universities and in our science and technology-based companies, not just those in the pharmaceutical industry. All the issues that are involved in innovation could be described in their own right—that would take a long time—but I want to concentrate on one of them.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) talked about universities that have very many bright young people who think not just about innovation. I applaud that fact; curiosity-driven, blue-skies research
 
27 Mar 2006 : Column 626
 
is absolutely essential in creating an environment that takes people into a high-calibre university structure. This country's science and technology infrastructure is at a very high level, and it will improve over the years with Budgets such as this one and other resources.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Gibson: I will not give way; I am bashing on.

When we talk about young people, the real problem comes from the research assessment exercise. Not only has that exercise made teaching less productive and something not to put as much effort into as publishing research papers and getting high grades and therefore the money, it has also effected the young people who are part of that process and employed on temporary contracts. I understand absolutely why young people do not want to go into science after university. They want to go into the City and elsewhere because there is no permanent career structure for them. I know that there is no permanent career structure for anyone—particularly, MPs, of course—but people are owed five to 10 years in a job to exploit and understand the areas in which they are interested.

Of course, the problem starts in our school system, where people are turned off science and do not want to study at our universities. I have talked about higher education, but this is also relevant in primary schools. Young people are interested in science; they are fascinated by it. They watch David Attenborough's programmes about the world. They want to go on field studies and see what the world is like. They want to talk about intelligent design—whatever that might mean—and compare it with Darwinism and so on. They want to talk about stem cells. There are many areas of fascination.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I am glad that my hon. Friend mentions those programmes, but does he agree that that the problem is that the BBC shows them so late at night, at a time when most children cannot stay up to watch them?

Dr. Gibson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I would make watching those programmes compulsory in schools. The problem in schools is not a lack of interest among young people about science, climate change and so on. For example, there are a huge number of university forensic science courses. Forensic science is developing in our universities because of Amanda Burton on television. Everyone wants to be Amanda Burton, and there is no doubt about that when we see certain people in white coats who look much more glamorous than others.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case about the potential of universities to do even more, but is he concerned, as I am, that it is more difficult for them to attract and retain high-quality lecturers? Attention needs to be given to university pay scales, certainly those of principal lecturers, because they have weakened considerably since I taught in higher education. We need to do something on that score, do we not?
 
27 Mar 2006 : Column 627
 

Dr. Gibson: That is an absolute factor for many people, but many other people are in higher education not for the money, but for the fascination of finding out about the world, why things exist and where they came from. That excites young people, too, but they never get the chance to get their hands dirty doing practical work. Schools need high-flying lab facilities so that the teacher is not doing things for young people but young people are doing things for themselves. When young people find something out and want to find something else out and the teacher says, "You must carry on with what the curriculum tells you to do," that is nonsense. They should be allowed to develop and explore attitudes and phenomena for themselves. That is what is missing. The science and technology curriculum in British schools is rotten. That puts young people off, as well.

In that climate, is it any wonder, that teachers will be hard to get. Some of the students I taught used to say, "Oh well, I can't get on to a PhD, I can't do medicine, I'd better go and teach." We have got to change that attitude. One of the greatest things is for a person to be able to teach a class and inspire them. That is hard work and it may not be paid well, but, by gosh, when one meets students whom one has taught or young people whom one has gone into a school and helped—many people do that now—and one sees what they turn out like, it is wonderful. I even produced a Nobel prize winner. I do not know how. I must have said something interesting at one time, among all the mess and so on.

There is a real opportunity to be creative. I went to a dinner the other night with creative arts people. They were all making graphic designs all over the place—they were wonderful young people. I was furious because I want to go to a dinner where there are young scientists who are inventing things and getting rewarded for that with a free dinner and the odd glass of something.

We need to consider the regional development agencies. I am in a fantastic fight with one at the minute. Why is Norwich not a science city when there are six other such cities in the country where the scientific excellence is no better or worse than in Norwich? I will tell Members why: the person who runs the regional development agency in East Anglia was good at making crisps and is good at selling holiday homes, but knows absolutely nothing about science and how it can change the world for many people.


Next Section IndexHome Page