Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2007
Q300 Chairman: That is all right.
Julie, do you want to add anything?
Ms Bramman: The only thing that
I would really love to add is that there is a lot of synergy between
the recommendations in Martin Barstow's report and what we are
doing as part of the STEM mapping programme and that is why I
said earlier (and probably gave the impression it is two different
things going on) that we need as a department to get the whole
of that infrastructure right and then put space within the wider
STEM spectrum. The department's attention and energies, I think
quite rightly, have been put into getting the wider infrastructure
and support right.
Chairman: Thank you for that clarification
because we have got different things pointing in different directions.
Q301 Dr Turner: There are serious
careers to be made in space but how aware are young people of
the opportunities? Are you satisfied with the awareness? Can you
make any suggestions for improving it?
Professor Wells: I think we have
to improve the awareness and one of the things in the programme
that we are pushing here is improving the links with the industrial
sector. In that capacity I consider the whole high-tech industry
not just the space industry as the people we need to talk to.
We are running a programme here of annual careers fairs around
the space theme to bring a contact between students, newly emerging
graduates and the industry and the academic sector. We have had
a pilot of that careers fair towards the end of last year to see
how that went. We ran that in conjunction with the UK (SEDS) support
organisation and that was pretty successful. We had 130 people
come to it and we had 10 presenters in the careers area and we
will be building on that over the next two or three years as part
of the current development programme.
Q302 Dr Turner: Some of the evidence
which we have had so far suggests that there may be something
of a skills shortage in the space sector, notably that an awful
lot of work being done in some areas in some companies is being
done by Indian and Chinese graduates. They of course will eventually
go back to India and China and take the skills with them. Do you
have any comments on that? Do you agree that there is a skills
Professor Wells: I think there
is personally. I drew attention to the graduate output in physics
and astronomy and I apologise I am really just focusing on the
physics sector because I have not had time to look at comparable
studies in the engineering or the computer technology area, but
you can see a trend there of fairly steady output of physics-based
graduates where an increasing proportion of those have got space-related
experience and probably in that output of graduates with a space
background about half of those are going on to do PhDs and the
other half are going out into the general workforce. I have no
statistics on their career choices but we do know from keeping
contact with our own graduates that some of them go into the City,
several of them come and start careers in this place in science
communication, and there is a general outflow, but the numbers
are small compared with the numbers you see quoted of graduates
in, say, computer technology coming out of India.
Q303 Dr Turner: So are these numbers
one of the reasons that has prompted the National Space Centre
to develop the careers pathway and workforce development programme?
Professor Wells: Yes.
Q304 Dr Turner: Can you tell us briefly
what it offers.
Professor Wells: Our view there
was that we saw measures of success and involvement of young people
in the Key Stage 2 and 3 areas and the numbers were fairly significant5,000
to 50,000 kids a year involved in some way or anotherand
then there is almost a precipice of falling off the cliff beyond
that and the carry through into the GCSE and A level looked to
us to be very sparse. We decided to try to address that question
by developing similar programmes for the Key Stage 4 and Key Stage
5 and we have spoken and got support for that programme from PPARC
and from the East Midlands Development Agency. Our aim is to have
a continuum of these outreach informal education programmes with
teacher involvement as a supplement to what goes on in the schools,
so again it is an entrepreneurial initiative that we have taken
and we are one-third of the way through developing the programme
with a lot of support, I have to say, from the sixth form colleges
and colleges of further education with whom we have consulted
Q305 Dr Turner: Do you think there
is sufficient public awareness of the amount of space activity
there is in Britain and how much there is that is worthy of promotion?
Do you think that more could be done to publicise the space industry
because that in itself would be quite productive, would it not?
Professor Wells: Within the industry
I think it is quite hard to do. One feature of space science and
space research is that the real big events only come along relatively
infrequently so keeping up a sustained programme of public awareness
is actually rather hard whereas you can have a large promotional
event when something big happens like a new mission is started
and endorsed and people can talk about what it is going to do.
I think that does generate public interest as it does when the
event actually occurs such as the launch or the landing of Huygens
on Titan and so on which were big events, so I think you have
to build around the big picture to keep public interest.
Q306 Dr Turner: But most of the turnover
in financial terms is in on-going things like environmental observations,
earth observations, all of that stuff which is vitally important
but the public do not know is happening, do they?
Professor Wells: No, I think that
is a story that does need to be told more. Space makes a very
big contribution to that monitoring process.
Q307 Dr Turner: Given the increasing
public awareness of climate change if that link were to be used,
could that help?
Professor Wells: Yes undoubtedly.
I think in the evidence that Chas Bishop has given you is pointing
out that it is an objective of the National Space Centre to renovate
its Planet Earth gallery to actually address the question of what
space does in climate change, but we will need funding for that.
Dr Clegg: Could I just add briefly,
I am sure you are right that the public awareness side is important.
Teachers and pupils will get information from radio, television,
magazines, podcasts and so on. I am reminded of the conclusions
from the Demos think-tank report Black Sky Thinking which
said: "Space in the UK, which should be seen as one of the
most creative industries in the UK, is largely invisible"
and that is a call to action, I think. So I think it means we
all have to work a lot harder because our utilitarian approach
to space in the UK means that we may end up hiding it and therefore
we must act 10 times more than otherwise. To be frank, I think
the one thing that would greatly help public funding agencies,
which have many, many calls on their funds, would be an increased
political mandate, a stronger political support. I am just echoing
the words of Professor Keith Mason the Chairman of the Space Board
who spoke to you earlier about that. I think that would help this
Dr Turner: Point taken.
Chairman: We do take the point and I
think the Demos quote is one that is well worth hanging in the
report somewhere. I am sure the words will have been heard but
whether they appear in the report will be a different kettle of
fish. Can I thank you very much indeed, Dr Robin Clegg, Julie
Bramman, Professor Alan Wells and Paul Spencer.