Select Committee on Science and Technology Ninth Report

 
 

 
4  Government policy

Government initiatives

GLOBAL SCIENCE AND INNOVATION FORUM

67. The Government's Science and Innovation Framework 2004-2014 recommended the establishment of a Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF).[131] The purpose of the forum, according to OSI, is "to coordinate a more evidence-based approach to international engagement and ensure UK interventions in this area adapt to the evolving international economic and research environment."[132] GSIF's terms of reference are as follows:

i.  To monitor implementation of the overarching UK strategy for international engagement in science and innovation, to update it and develop new recommendations where necessary;

ii.  To provide advice on cross-governmental issues relating to the strategy, where there is a clear need for co-ordination in order to inform UK government policy and/or UK positions in international negotiations;

iii.  To review UK activities with focus countries in line with the strategy, and where necessary provide advice on further coordination or new activities needed;

iv.  To consider the implications of new evidence and trends relating to the UK's international science and innovation engagement, including evaluations of the various schemes to support this engagement.[133]

68. The membership of GSIF includes: the trans-departmental, research base and innovation areas from OSI DTI (now DIUS), UK Trade and Investment, FCO, Defra, the DFID, the British Council, the Royal Society, RCUK, the Department for Education and Skills (now DIUS), HM Treasury, the Department of Health, and the Ministry of Justice. Its secretariat has been provided by the OSI International Directorate (now DIUS). The Research Councils do not all attend for logistical reasons but RCUK states that the Councils have contributed to GSIF's work such as the development of its strategy.[134]

69. In October 2006, GSIF published the Global Science and Innovation Forum: A Strategy for International Engagement in Research and Development.[135] The strategy focuses on research excellence, excellence in innovation, global influence and international development. It recommended further improvements in the following areas:

  • "Ensuring UK researchers and businesses engage with the best research internationally, through simplified access to public support schemes and consolidating the UK presence in key partner countries;
  • Developing strategic partnerships, through new schemes to link world class UK universities with counterparts in China and India and to attract the best researchers to the UK and managing alumni effectively in the long term;
  • Improving coordination to create synergies across government and key non-governmental bodies - in bilateral relationships with priority countries, in marketing and communicating UK strengths, and in promoting scientific advice in international policy making; and
  • Supporting activities to increase the innovative nature of UK business - ensuring it has the capacity to internationalise and access to the best science, engineering and technology opportunities worldwide; and increasing the research intensity of the UK by encouraging R&D investment in the UK by innovative multinational enterprises."[136]

GSIF partners are now working on implementing the strategy and recommendations. The Research Councils are responsible for implementing recommendations within the first area of improvement such as streamlining and simplifying the interface between publicly funded schemes to encourage collaboration, improving the presence of the RCUK brand, and establishing overseas offices.[137]

70. GSIF has been welcomed by organisations such as the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. The Royal Society told us that GSIF was a "huge improvement" on the Chief Scientific Adviser's International Committee that preceded it, adding that GSIF "has shown itself to be a group which can forge real consensus between these stakeholders and has the ability to bring about co-ordinated action."[138] The Royal Academy of Engineering welcomed the principle of GSIF but regretted that the Academy had not been given an opportunity to contribute to the GSIF strategy.[139]

71. Although witnesses tended to agree that GSIF had made a good start, most provided examples of how it needed to improve in the future. Dr Randal Richards, Interim Chief Executive of the EPSRC, told us that "GSIF is a good start at trying to get interaction with what is a complex area […] It needs to focus on a few areas".[140] Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of STFC, agreed, saying that GSIF needed to focus on "how to deal with multinational collaborations, how to influence multilateral collaborations to do what the UK wants them to do, and how to interact in that way."[141] Dr Bernie Jones from the Royal Society told us that GSIF "has done reasonably well so far, but it could still do better".[142]

72. One of the areas that submissions focused upon was the need for further co-ordination of policies. Universities UK, for example, welcomed GSIF but noted that "better cross government coordination of policies is still needed".[143] The Royal Academy of Engineering reiterated this, saying that "although the Academy is aware of the existence of mechanisms to promote co-ordination and collaboration between the Research Councils and the Government Departments involved in international scientific activities, current performance would suggest that these are not yet working effectively."[144] Professor Diamond, Chief Executive of ESRC acknowledged that "the critical thing is that we simply have to have 'joined-upness' across those government departments which do have an interest in this area."[145] We believe that the GSIF partners should not be complacent and should use implementation of the strategy as a springboard for continued work on co-ordination.

73. We have heard comments that GSIF is not visible beyond Whitehall. The University of Warwick told us that "these collaborations are at a high level and are either not visible at university level or their benefits do not seem to filter down."[146] This sentiment was reiterated by UKCRC and NOCS.[147] Professor Sir Keith O'Nions told us "I do not think that its [GSIF's] profile has been strong externally" but noted that "If GSIF is going to have an ongoing role, then the way in which its profile would be increased would be by having, following Funder's Forum, an open meeting once a year with stakeholders, putting minutes on the website and engaging more in that way."[148]

74. We welcome the Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF) but emphasise that it needs to increase its visibility, publicise itself and prove its worth. We recommend that GSIF's performance be monitored by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser's Office in DIUS.

FOREIGN OFFICE ACTIVITIES

75. In 2000, the FCO established a Science and Innovation Network (SIN) as part of its science strategy. The network now has over 100 officers in 42 missions in 28 countries across the world.[149] The network is co-ordinated by the Science and Innovation Group (SIG) in London. SIN and the Research Councils work together organising visits to host countries, providing access to a country's science base, providing access to the UK science base, exchanging intelligence on science priorities, responding to fact-finding missions and developing specific projects. The FCO spends approximately £10.6 million a year on SIN.

76. SIN has worked with the Research Councils to encourage positive collaborations with other countries on various projects such as:

  • The Earth Simulator Supercomputer in Japan—NERC and SIN worked to enable three British researchers to be based in Japan for three years;
  • The Maths (Representation Theory) Initiative - EPSRC and SIN are working to develop a collaborative initiative and Memorandum of Understanding with France;
  • Workshops in China on foodborne pathogens (BBSRC), climate change (NERC), cancer research (MRC), spintronics (EPSRC), astronomy (STFC), synchrotron radiation (STFC), e-Science (EPSRC) and polar research (NERC).[150]

77. The FCO highlighted two main problems in its relationship with the Research Councils: collaboration and communication. The Research Councils are key stakeholders in SIN and the FCO says that understanding their priorities, particularly in relation to individual countries, is crucial to an effective collaborative relationship. It states that "Collaboration is good but there is scope for greater understanding…SIN is keen to work more closely with RCs."[151] The FCO also told us that "Communication has generally been good and is getting better".[152] It says that it would like to work more closely with the Research Councils, in particular the ESRC.[153]

78. The Research Councils generally provided positive accounts of their interaction with the FCO, often listing events arranged by SIN.[154] CCLRC told us that FCO staff "provide an excellent level of support".[155] PPARC said that it "found the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Science and Innovation Network foreign attachés to be particularly important when liaising with countries in the Far-East such as Japan and China."[156] RCUK noted that the SIN teams in China, Washington and India had been closely involved in the plans to establish offices in these countries.[157] The Research Councils have, however, also noted areas for improvement, such as earlier engagement by the FCO on country specific initiatives and better planning in term of delivery.[158] The AHRC told us that "an enduring problem in establishing closer links with the FCO and utilising its Science and Innovation Network more effectively is the lack of coverage of arts and humanities issues and researchers by science attachés."[159]

79. The FCO and Research Councils have both taken steps to improve the relationship. The FCO has appointed a Research Council specific stakeholder manager and FCO representatives have attended the Research Council International Network. RCUK states that it is working on putting in place "more robust" means for gathering and verifying information on international activities for the FCO.[160]

80. We welcome the FCO's Science and Innovation Network. We recommend that the Research Councils and FCO continue to work to improve co-ordination. The FCO should play a stronger role in the delivery of the Research Councils' international policies providing in-country assistance and advice when necessary.

DFID ACTIVITIES

81. DFID has developed partnerships with the Research Councils in order to deliver the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals and to meet the policy initiatives outlined in the 2006 White Paper Making Governance Work for the Poor.[161] DFID states that the partnerships that are outlined in Box 3 will bring the best of UK academic excellence to its work and will increase collaboration between researchers in the developed and developing worlds.

Box 3: DFID's collaborative programmes with the Research Councils

DFID-ESRC Scheme for Research on International Poverty

To stimulate and support collaborations between UK and overseas researchers on substantive research topics on poverty alleviation.

The scheme has a budget of £13 million over four years (£7 million from DFID and £6 million from ESRC).

DFID-BBSRC Programme on Sustainable Agriculture for International Development

Directed at research of benefit to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia but other developing countries can participate.

It is a £6 million programme with £4 million from DFID and £2 million from BBSRC

DFID-MRC concordat

To co-ordinate policies for research into the health of developing societies. Total MRC/DFID portfolio amounts to approximately £30 million per annum (£4 million contributed by DFID).

DFID-NERC Programme on Eco-Systems Services

It will address the increasing pressures on natural resources and global climate from rapid economic and population growth in the developing world.

The budget is £30 million.  

Source: Ev 80

82. Given our previous concerns regarding DFID's scientific and technological capacity, we welcome its partnerships with the Research Councils.[162] DFID has told us that the schemes have had a high volume of good quality applications and collaboration between the UK academic community and overseas counterparts is growing. It also states that working with the Research Councils has enabled it to access technical expertise and that, as a consequence of the schemes, the Research Councils are better able to represent the UK in the international development field.[163] We note, however, the Royal Society's warning that "it is too early to know the results and impacts of these new schemes and careful monitoring is required."[164]

83. We welcome DFID's collaborative programmes with the Research Councils. DFID and the Councils should confirm how they intend to measure the success of these programmes. We recommend that RCUK monitor the schemes and if appropriate, encourage further collaboration in the area of international development.

OSI ACTIVITIES

84. In 2006, the OSI International Directorate undertook various activities to promote international science and technology as outlined in Table 3. The OSI International Directorate spent £5.4 million in 2006 on international activities, not including its contributions to jointly funded activities such as the UK-India Education and Research Initiative.

Table 3: OSI Funding for International Activities (2006)

Scheme/Programme  Description/Objective  Annual Funding  
Partners in Science

(Years of Science)  

To build bilateral links and agreements between UK and partner scientific funding agencies and research institutes in China and Brazil. To encourage collaborative links.  £325 k 
Focal points Selected priority research areas for collaboration with South Korea and China (the latter building on Partners in Science initiative)  £125 k 
Networking schemes  Facilitate collaboration between UK and partner country researchers. Networking schemes currently operate with China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and South Korea. They are jointly funded by the UK and the partner country.  £470 k 
Joint Commissions Ministerial bilateral meetings to raise the profile of science and innovation collaboration and provide a platform for launching/endorsing new bilateral initiatives. Joint Commissions currently operate with India, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.  £24 k 
University Links To build science and innovation bridges with world-class universities and high-tech businesses in the US to increase industrial competitiveness and knowledge transfer. £6 million over two years announced in November 2005.  £ 3 m 
EU Framework Programmes  National Contact Point (NCP) support for UK organisations wanting to access the mobility aspect of EU Framework Programme.  £ 50 k 
FP6UK Service  Provides support (via a website, expert advice on bid preparation, seminars, e-mail alerts etc.) to UK organisations bidding into many other elements of the EU Framework Programme. Includes Central Information point.  £ 1.45 m 

Source: GSIF, Strategy for international engagement in research and development, p 51

85. As well as the activities undertaken by the OSI International Directorate, the OSI has also provided funding to the Research Councils to support their activities including international activities. OSI funding has additionally funded the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Academy work in this area.

86. As mentioned in paragraph 7, the recent machinery of Government changes have resulted in the abolition of the OSI as a distinct entity and the transfer of its responsibilities to DIUS. In the following sections we focus upon OSI's work in the past and make recommendations for DIUS to take forward.

Developing bilateral relationships

87. OSI's activities focused upon maintaining established relationships, for example with Japan and the USA, and building new relationships with countries such as China, India, South Africa and Brazil. It used a variety of approaches including joint commissions, high-level visits, networking schemes and the Partners in Science programme. The OSI told us that "these activities involve OSI working across government and more widely, including with the Research Councils, to ensure that the full range of science, technology and innovation is covered and that all appropriate stakeholders are engaged."[165]

88. There is evidence that the UK is not developing bilateral collaborative links as quickly as other countries. Evidence Ltd says that the UK has a well developed network with other countries but it is "not expanding its collaborative links as quickly as some competitors." This situation is especially noticeable in relation to China and India.[166] Germany, for example, is increasing its rates of collaboration with both India and China more quickly than the UK (see Table 4). This may be because China and India have focused expansion upon the physical and technological sciences, rather than the biological sciences where the UK has particular strengths. It may also be linked, however, to the fact that Germany already has a research office base in China.

Table 4: Recent increase in collaboration (ratio 96-00/01-05) measured by co-authorship of research publications

 
India
 
China
 
UK 
1.65
 
1.94
 
Germany  
1.81
 
1.96
 

Source: Ev 42

89. The Royal Society, which runs the UK side of OSI's networking schemes, says that the UK's position is slipping because of a lack of money. The support for networking schemes in China and India is in the region of £100,000 to £150,000 per year.[167] The Royal Society states that this level of funding is often perceived as "derisory" by partner countries who expect the UK to have a larger budget for such activities.[168] It says that it is "difficult to convince potential international partners of the UK's commitment to collaborative projects with only these comparatively small amounts of money."[169] Furthermore, once relationships have been established through the network, there is often no dedicated money for follow-up (paragraph 46). The Royal Society states that "there is no strategic follow-on funding programme to the bottom-up networking programme and the themed networking events" run by the OSI and this is an area where the Research Councils could engage.[170] This seems unlikely given RCUK's comment that "Whilst targeted workshops and exchanges can encourage contacts and exchanges of information, it is important that all parties are realistic from the outset about the level of research funding Councils may subsequently be able to make available and the chances of securing this in competition with other proposals."[171] It thus seems to be once again a question of funding the best science or providing strategic funding (paragraph 47).

90. Professor Sir Keith O'Nions told us that "I do not think that being effective, or more effective internationally than even we are at the moment, is a matter of money. I think that we are sufficiently well resourced to do that."[172] He emphasised that instead it was a matter of strategy, coherence and flexibility in planning. There appear to be avenues that DIUS could explore to improve the effectiveness of its work on developing bilateral relationships without committing significant additional funds. For example, several submissions have highlighted the lack of information and feedback in relation to visits of UK Minister abroad or foreign Ministers to the UK. CCLRC told us that "There is no clearly identified central diary of visits abroad by senior staff or Ministers nor of incoming visitors. This reduces the capacity to capitalise on such visits by planning complementary activities or suggesting people or locations to visit."[173] CEH noted that, although the UK research community might be mobilized before a Minister made a science-related visit overseas, there was little follow-up or feedback.[174]

Years of Science

91. The OSI has funded two Partners in Science or Years of Science programmes. The first was the 2005 UK/China Partners in Science Initiative. The second was the 2007 British Year of Science in Brazil. In the most recent instance, the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir David King, and the Brazilian Science and Technology Minister Sergio Rezende signed a Joint Action Plan on Science, Technology and Innovation. The aim of the agreement was to encourage greater collaboration between the two countries in areas of common interest such as climate change, agriculture and health. During an oral evidence session with the Trade and Industry Committee relating to trade with Brazil, Professor King explained that Brazil was chosen for this scheme because "the whole climate change/energy/biodiversity agenda was very strongly in our minds".[175] He said that the aim of the Year of Science was to "promote awareness in Brazil of UK excellence in science and innovation and to strengthen collaboration between the two countries."[176] Professor Sir David King said that he felt that the previous initiative with China had been a "highly successful enterprise."[177]

92. We have been told that the schemes have brought some benefits. Professor Blakemore, Chief Executive of MRC, told us that during the Year of Science in China the MRC signed four new Memoranda of Understanding with Chinese agencies. He said that "interaction is extremely close and to a large extent that is attributable I think to the links that we […] built up during the year."[178] The Year of Science in Brazil has resulted in a proposal for the UK and Brazilian Research Councils to run an entirely joint peer review process across all areas of research in order to avoid the problem of double jeopardy.[179]

93. The Year of Science schemes are not heavily advertised in the UK. The Royal Academy of Engineering argues that the Years of Science have tended to have "low visibility in the UK".[180] It notes that the focus has been on the partner country and consequentially, UK researchers with existing collaborations in the relevant countries have not necessarily been involved in the schemes and existing networks have not been fully exploited. Furthermore, the Academy claims that greater engagement within the UK could also help to ensure that the Year of Science activities accurately represent the range of activities available in the UK.

94. There is also a danger that the schemes will not be adequately followed up and, as the spotlight shifts onto another country, collaborative links will wither. Dr Lloyd Anderson from the British Council told us that "the problem with these big campaigns is that they are not necessarily sustainable […] whilst the Year of Science has been successful in China I am concerned about whether there is a long term commitment to keeping up those engagements."[181] Dr Bernie Jones from the Royal Society agreed that the schemes lacked follow up.[182] Professor Sir Keith O'Nions acknowledged that "it is quite easy to wind up the system and increase the profile; the challenge is always in sustaining it, because sustaining it usually requires investment".[183] He stated that whilst the initial stimulus could come from Government, the continuity should come from the Academies and the Research Councils.[184]

Conclusions

95. We welcome the work that has been done by OSI in developing partnerships with other countries. We are concerned, however, that the UK's position as a desirable international partner is slipping and that the Government is working within an increasingly competitive international environment. DIUS needs to ensure that relationships with other countries are exploited at all levels from Government to Government to researcher to researcher.

96. There is a failure properly to follow up schemes, initiatives and visits. We believe that ensuring appropriate follow-up to Government initiatives will require more funding as well as an improved strategy. We recommend that DIUS invest more money in developing partnerships and work with the Research Councils and Academies to ensure consistent follow up to its work, particularly the Years of Science initiative.


131   HM Treasury, DTI & DfES, Science and Innovation Framework 2004-2014, July 2004, p 17. Back

132   Ev 154 Back

133   GSIF Terms of Reference, www.dti.gov.uk/science Back

134   Ev 90 Back

135   GSIF, Global Science and Innovation Forum: A Strategy for International Engagement in Research and Development, October 2006  Back

136   Ev 155 Back

137   Ev 156 Back

138   Ev 62 Back

139   Ev 69 Back

140   Q 24 Back

141   Q 23  Back

142   Q 182  Back

143   Ev 152 Back

144   Ev 69 Back

145   Q 28  Back

146   Ev 56 Back

147   Ev 46, 73 Back

148   Q 254  Back

149   Ev 51 Back

150   Ev 52 Back

151   Ev 51 Back

152   Ev 53 Back

153   As above. Back

154   Ev 113, 124, 140 Back

155   Ev 116 Back

156   Ev 147 Back

157   Ev 103 Back

158   As above. Back

159   Ev 110 Back

160   Ev 103 Back

161   Ev 79 Back

162   Science and Technology Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2003-04, The use of science in UK international development policy, HC 133-I Back

163   Ev 79 Back

164   Ev 61 Back

165   Ev 155 Back

166   Ev 41 Back

167   Ev 42 Back

168   As above. Back

169   Ev 42  Back

170   As above. Back

171   Ev 92 Back

172   Q 258 Back

173   Ev 114 Back

174   Ev 87, Q 133 Back

175   Trade and Industry Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, Trade with Brazil and Mercosur, HC 208-II, Q 249 Back

176   Trade and Industry Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, Trade with Brazil and Mercosur, HC 208-II, Q 249 Back

177   As above. Back

178   Q 15 Back

179   Q 27 Back

180   Ev 68 Back

181   Q 192 Back

182   Q 195 Back

183   Q 256 Back

184   Q 257 Back


 

 
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