House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
Wednesday 9 May 2007
PROFESSOR COLIN BLAKEMORE, PROFESSOR IAN DIAMOND, PROFESSOR KEITH MASON and DR RANDAL RICHARDS
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 9 May 2007
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Dr Evan Harris
Mr Brooks Newmark
Dr Desmond Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council (MRC), Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Chair, Research Councils UK (RCUK) Executive Group. Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and Dr Randal Richards, Interim Chief Executive, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), gave evidence.
Q1 Chairman: Good morning and welcome to this, the first evidence session of a new inquiry into an examination of the research councils and the international policies and activities of the research councils. I welcome our witnesses this morning. May I start with a question to you, Professor Mason? How good is the UK at international collaboration?
Professor Mason: I think we are very good at it. My research council in particular lives and breathes international co-operation. Most of what we do has an international dimension to it. We have been doing it for a long time. As in all aspects of the work we do, we need to move forward and to improve and keep up with the rest of the world. I think we are working from a very good base.
Dr Richards: I would agree with Keith; we are pretty good at international collaboration, particularly with the US and Australia but there are some areas where we do need to make additional concerted effort.
Q2 Chairman: Where would that be?
Dr Richards: China, India and particularly from our perspective, the EPSRC's perspective.
Professor Diamond: I think we are good and very good in many areas. There is an awful lot that we need to do, though, and we have made a really good start. The particular issue that I think is terribly important is that we remove any barriers whatsoever to international collaboration in teams, thereby taking away what is known as double, triple or quadruple jeopardy from the research applicants. Clearly that does require work with the sister research councils in other parts of the world. That has been going on in an enormous amount but there is a huge commitment for research councils to make that happen. My own research council now has 14 different agreements with different countries, which have common peer review and thereby the complete removal of double jeopardy. I think things are moving in exactly the right direction. As Keith has said, we have a very good history but there is still much to do and we are working very hard.
Q3 Chairman: By double jeopardy, do you mean where money is taken away? Do you get an international grant?
Professor Diamond: No. I mean quite simply is this. If you imagine a researcher at the University of Oxford wanting to work with a researcher at the University of Cambridge on a new piece of economics, then they simply get together, apply jointly to the SRC for peer review. If that same researcher at the University of Oxford wanted to work with someone at the University of Manheim, until two years ago, they would have had to apply to ESRC from Oxford, to the DFG from Manheim, and waited for two separate peer review processes to work. Had they had a colleague also, say from Belgium, they would have three separate review processes and suddenly you are waiting for the metaphorical equivalent of three crowns on a one-armed bandit in order to get the research project to go. That is not a way to move. That is why across the research councils, and certainly in my research council, we will be moving to remove that so that if colleagues wanted to work together, they can apply on one application form. We jointly peer review and we jointly take the decision to fund the application.
Q4 Chairman: Does that apply across all the research councils?
Professor Diamond: In differing degrees, it does.
Q5 Chairman: Colin, is that the same in the medical research area?
Professor Blakemore: Yes, it is just the same. We can accept co-applicants for any form of MRC grant from overseas.
Q6 Chairman: Does that apply to countries like India, China and the United States or is it just in Europe?
Professor Blakemore: No. We particularly encourage it in India, China and in the developing world in general.
Q7 Chairman: Would you agree with the general comment that international collaboration is strong?
Professor Blakemore: Yes. A surrogate of that is the fact that about one-third of MRC supported research is in universities and one-third of publications from institutes and units involves international collaboration, much of it with the United States, France and Germany but a substantive fraction with the developing world; 18 per cent of publications with institutes and units have a co-author in the developing world.
Q8 Chairman: Keith, when we received written evidence from Evidence Ltd. (IPA 01), our first piece of evidence that came in, the comment that they made was that the UK "has a good share of international collaboration, but it is not as strong as might be anticipated. It is not expanding as rapidly as some countries and it is less consistent in the biomedical areas where the UK has a position of world leadership of research quality." That seems to fly in the face of what you and Colin have just said.
Professor Blakemore: I think RCUK has recognised its need to move with more agility, particularly in developing collaborative links in China and in India and in strengthening further our links with the United States. I find that symbolised by the establishment of offices to facilitate collaboration in those three countries.
Q9 Chairman: Is that a fair comment, though, from Evidence Ltd.?
Professor Blakemore: I would want to know the metric of the evidence used to support that statement.
Professor Diamond: Could I ask one question? If you look at other evidence from Evidence Ltd., then you will see that where US scholars collaborate with UK scholars, the citation rates are much higher than US scholars not collaborating with anyone and much higher than collaborating with people from other places. In other words, the UK is very much a partner of choice for the US in those areas. I think one has to look very carefully at the data. I have not been privileged to read that piece but we would be very happy to comment on it if we do.
Q10 Chairman: Does not Germany out-pace us in terms of collaboration, according to the European metric?
Dr Richards: I think they do with the US but I have just received a letter from the Director of NSF wanting to initiate talks with the SRC on nanoscience and digital and (fusion) energy to try to get collaborative research going there.
Professor Diamond: Sir Keith O'Nions when he visited the United States some two weeks ago had conversations with the NSF and we provided information for him asking for a complete, free, joint peer review across the entire base, which is rather difficult, I understand - and I stress that is my understanding - for the NSF to do. Whereas we are very keen to partner, they have bureaucratic reasons for not being able to do it as freely as we can.
Professor Blakemore: Of the nearly 1,000 active research grants and MRC grants in universities, fully one-third report either co-applicants or collaborators in the United States.
Q11 Dr Harris: Could I say what the metric is, since you ask. The metric from Evidence Ltd. was that the recent increase in collaboration, that is the ratio 96:1000 for 2001‑2005 measured by co-authorship of research publications, is: for Germany and China, 1.96 and in India 1.81; and for the UK with China, 1.94 and with India, 1.65. Their conclusion is that Germany is increasing its general rate of collaboration with both India and China more rapidly than the UK on that metric.
Professor Blakemore: Of course ratios can be deceptive. It depends what the starting point is. The error bars on those figures are really significantly different.
Q12 Chairman: This is evidence presented by the Global Science and Innovation Forum, which I think you would all accept is the ---
Professor Diamond: Yes, but could I just ask the question, Dr Harris: was the number you said that Germany had gone to 1.96 and the UK to 1.94?
Dr Harris: Yes, and for China 1.65 to 1.81.
Q13 Chairman: What we are trying to get, Ian, is really what all that means.
Professor Mason: I think, irrespective of statistics, which we can argue about till the cows come home, the lesson here is that we do need to keep on top of the game. The world is changing and we need to keep on top of it. That is what we are attempting to do by forging new ways of dealing with international collaborations, having offices in various key countries, et cetera.
Q14 Graham Stringer: What is a good measure of success and impact in collaboration? We have just heard a lot of statistics from Evan Harris. I am not convinced that they are the best measure of what is happening.
Dr Richards: Over what time period is that? I would say a good measure of success in impacts would be better collaboration with a Chinese research group and then in future years when they say, "I need some more research done in that area. I know that people go to the UK", and so they are saying they will continue the collaboration for their benefit. That is the worth of having that sort of collaboration but it takes time to build that up.
Q15 Chairman: Ian, where are the main challenges for us in this whole area of international collaboration? What are the challenges and what are we doing about it?
Professor Diamond: I think there are a number of challenges and they go right through the research life course. Firstly, we have to be extremely attractive for the very best junior scholars to come to this country, either for a PhD or for post-doctorate study. The reason I say that is that many of the publications you have heard about are joint between PhD students and their supervisors. Subsequently, those PhD students go back to China, India, Germany or the United States, or wherever, but they maintain a long-term link with the UK and that is something that Randal I think has met. Right at the beginning we have to be the place of choice to come and we have to make it easy for students and post-doctoral fellows, for the very best, to come. Secondly, we have to reduce all barriers to international collaboration and that is not just simply a matter of the processes I have described, reducing double jeopardy, but also making it easy for the movement of scholars because research projects and joint programmes do not simply happen overnight. People have to be able to engage in a conversation to enable those collaborations to happen. We have to make it easy for those collaborations to happen. That requires research councils, I believe, working together across boundaries. That is a challenge that is being taken up now. My own council as part of a major collaborative of European research councils, which we largely lead on, funded as a European research area. Other research councils are similarly involved with other networks. We need to make those kinds of opportunities happen. Thirdly, we need always to be on the look out for new expansions and new opportunities to collaborate and to make international activities happen. One thing I have not mentioned is international development. I did not know if we are going to address that later.
Q16 Chairman: We are.
Professor Mason: May I add to that and stress the fact that most successful, long-term collaborations are built on a person-to-person relationship and not an institute-to-institute relationship. So it is important to get that initial comfort, to get to know people in different countries, supervisor/student relationships or two students who go on to collaborate. It is important to get that right for the long term health of international collaboration.
Q17 Graham Stringer: Are there particular subject areas where international collaboration is more difficult? For instance, what are the particular problems faced by social sciences in international collaboration?
Professor Diamond: Actually, you might think there are problems because clearly one has to take into account culture and society, but in many case it is only by a truly careful cross‑national application of study that one is able properly to understand, if you like, major social policy because you cannot potentially have a natural experiment of, say, different pensions policies or different child-bearing policies in a particular country. What you can do is see what has happened across different countries, but then you also have to be very careful and very cautious in understanding different cultures and different awareness. That is why you absolutely do need, and I would stress, not only social science but a humanities perspective to really bring in that cultural perspective. Those are real challenges but they are not challenges which are insurmountable. They absolutely have to be taken into account.
Q18 Dr Turner: I would like to ask all of you to comment on the role of government and policy makers in promoting international collaboration and research. Politicians talk the talk but do they always deliver for you?
Professor Blakemore: I am sure my colleagues would all have their own examples of very fruitful interaction with government departments, particularly all of us with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the Science and Technology Network, with DFID, and could cite a number of very proactive collaborations with DFID for the MRC including co-funding of major research and research projects. The OSI has been very helpful and successful in facilitating our interactions with overseas governments, helping for instance in the establishment of the three offices that I mentioned earlier. In my experience, the interaction with other government departments has been extremely positive.
Professor Mason: I would not disagree with that. There are many instances where the intervention of government has opened doors which would otherwise be very difficult or stymied. If there is one area in which we need to work in the future it is to get some clarity as to why we are engaged in international collaborations. There is clearly a scientific reason and for that the research councils can make judgments and take care of that, but there also increasingly might be strategic or economic reasons for engaging with other countries. I think there needs to be some thought across government, and this is a joined-up government issue, about how that is resourced and driven. It is not purely a research council issue obviously but quite often we seem to have the expectation that we can work in all these areas and clearly we do not have the remit to do that.
Q19 Chairman: Should they determine that role?
Professor Mason: No, they should not determine that role.
Q20 Chairman: Who determines the role?
Professor Mason: I think government needs to get some clarity across the whole piece about the importance of international collaboration and what the drivers are and take ownership certainly of the strategic and economic reasons for promoting collaboration.
Dr Richards: I do not dissent from anything that has been said so far. The FCO has been particularly helpful in making the contacts to set up the offices in Beijing and Washington. There does need to be some joined-up work. From EPSRC's point of view, what we are trying to do is to advertise or make known that the UK is an attractive place to do research and development. That means across government trying to connect up with UKTI so that you get international collaboration, which will continue in the future and lead to wider collaboration and investment in the UK. I think the FCO has been particularly helpful in that respect.
Q21 Dr Turner: Keith, within your research council, you have some particular issues. The kind of gear that you are dealing with tends to be intrinsically international and there tends to be an advantage to be the country which is hosting that facility. Culham is a good example, for instance. The next generation spallation neutron source is another example of something which might be highly desirable for this country to host but is the Government dragging its feet in promoting that bid?
Professor Mason: I do not think they are dragging their feet. One of the issues which internationally people are trying to deal with, and it is not simply a UK problem, is quantifying the magnitude of that benefit. The empirical evidence is that hosting large facilities on national soil is a benefit and is quite large, but quantifying that is something much more difficult, which nobody really has got to grips with. One of the things we are starting off with the new research council is to try to improve our quantification of those benefits. Not all facilities will have equal benefits. Clearly we need to go for those that have the maximum benefit for a hosting premium.
Q22 Dr Turner: Are you not worried that by the time we have quantified the benefits, we will have missed the boat?
Professor Mason: Indeed, and I think that is one of the messages that I am trying to get across to government, that we will work on quantifying the benefits but you have to go with your gut feeling as well. The empirical evidence is that it is of benefit and we should be putting resources into trying to host such facilities. The benefits are coming from (Diamond) already, for example; you can see the excitement that has generated and interest that is generated in that site in the people wanting to use it and the interest from abroad, and the same with ISIS, even more so with ISIS because of the international collaboration. We will work on quantifying the benefits but you are absolutely right that we cannot miss the boat while we work on that because nobody has really tackled that problem. It is a very difficult issue.
Q23 Dr Turner: How useful do you think the Global Science and Innovation Forum is going to be? Is that going to improve the scene?
Professor Mason: Yes, it is useful. It is finding its feet. This is a very complex area to work in. You cannot expect it to be perfect first off. I think it is making real progress, particularly in the area of bilateral collaboration and interactions. If there is an area where GSIF needs to focus in the future it is 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. Full marks for a good start but we need to keep up the momentum.
Q24 Chairman: Would any of the others like to comment on that?
Professor Diamond: I think GSIF is a really important group which I believe as it matures will have a role to play. I would echo what my colleague has said. There really is a need for government across the piece to have one view in particular areas. It is not terribly helpful where there are four or five different views and one has to go to four or five different people in order to work things out. When one does go on the ground sometimes, the people in the embassies are fantastically helpful and really useful to us in taking forward a whole series of initiatives.
Dr Richards: GSIF is a good start at trying to get interaction with what is a complex area. It is a bit like being a child on Christmas Day and you do not know which box to open first. It needs to focus on a few areas rather than try to open everything.
Q25 Dr Turner: That leads me neatly on to asking all of you if you would make a comment on where you think we should be going in the immediate future on international collaboration. I am sure you all have your pet hobbyhorses. Would you like to ride them?
Dr Richards: Speaking for EPSRC, we have an international collaboration line. This year, because the Beijing office will be opening, we will be focusing on trying to get research collaborations going in the area of energy sources and renewable energy. To add to that, this weekend I was at a meeting of what is known as the G8-HORCS - heads of the research councils in the G8 countries. There is a common feature coming across all those countries that were there - Japan, Canada, the US, Italy, Russia and the UK - with the focus on young researchers starting research careers. It is internationally common now. I think all the research councils are paying attention to that now. How do you start off young people, young research careers, in the best possible way and give them the push they need?
Professor Mason: As I said at the outset, I think the STFC is in a slightly different position in that the majority of what we do is very strongly embedded in the international arena. Everything we do virtually has an international flavour to it. In terms of our international strategy, what we need to do is to make sure that we up the game in terms of getting the benefits from those collaborations. Part of that is demonstrating leadership in international collaborations and that is helped by forging bilateral relations with target countries to leverage what we do in the more general collaboration arena. Certainly, in common with my colleagues, there is a great deal of interest in promoting work with China and India and the USA has always been very strong but we are building that up. We have just signed a bilateral agreement for example to work on space exploration with the USA and that is a very important step in leveraging what we are already doing and getting more benefit from it. The third point which leads on from that and which fits very much within the STFC's agenda is to derive economic benefit from the collaborations. I think we have a good record in the past but we can do better and, particularly with devolvement of the science and innovation campuses, we need to be attracting people to invest in the UK rather than the UK investing abroad. That is something we shall certainly be working on in the next years coming up.
Professor Blakemore: As far as MRC is concerned, certainly we will continue to encourage MRC researchers to collaborate with their more traditional contacts in the United States, in France and in Germany, but I would highlight a number of areas where we would like to see more progress. One is in the area of emerging infectious disease. We already have two research units, one very large research unit in Africa, which is devoted to the issues of tropical medicine, including infectious disease, but we have been moving towards more active collaboration with China. We have done it in one way already through the call for proposals for research on influenza and the pandemic potential. Several research grants that were given under that core have Chinese collaborators. We are in active discussion and have been for some time with the Chinese Academy of Sciences about the possibility of making a direct investment of some sort of institutional reform in China in the area of infectious disease. In Africa where we have longstanding investment, the larger of our units just celebrated its 60th anniversary last week. We are now considering our future strategy. We have just completed a workshop which is leading to the report on an African strategy for the coming 20 years. We want to look for opportunities for more direct involvement with an investment in African institutions, research institutions or universities, to accelerate the efforts to build capacity in Africa. I will also mention as Keith did the importance of not forgetting the innovation agenda and the translation agenda. For the biomedical sciences, there are considerable opportunities there in collaboration with population studies, particularly genetic studies, and in clinical trials which have ultimately a translation objective, and also more direct working. I can give one example of that. We have recently completed the first work with the national drug screening facility in Shanghai using their resources and their compound collection, which is significantly different in its make-up compared to Western compound collections, to screen a potential target for malaria.
Q26 Dr Turner: Finally, did the Year of Science scheme add any value to your work and what was the research councils' involvement?
Professor Blakemore: The Year of Science in China: all the councils contributed very energetically to that. Obviously I can report with most knowledge about the MRC's contribution. With several delegations, we held a workshop on cancer in Beijing. We also had meetings and interactions in the area of neuroscience in collaboration, innovation, technology and infectious disease with a group of experts visiting China looking at opportunities for collaboration. That has certainly had a string of consequences. During and since the Year of Science in China we have signed four new memoranda of understanding with Chinese agencies. Our interaction is extremely close and to a large extent that is attributable I think to the links that we have built up during the year.
Q27 Dr Turner: That is something you would need to continue and build on?
Professor Blakemore: And we are.
Professor Diamond: I might also add there was a Year of Science in Brazil. David King led a delegation which Ruth (Besler) as chief executive of the HRC went on and the result of that is that there is now a proposal from all of the research councils to our colleagues in Brazil for an entirely joint peer review process across all areas of research for collaborations between UK scientists and Brazil, which we are very excited about.
Dr Richards: What EPSRC gained from that year in China was a workshop on spintronics which is the next generation of electronics. Following on from that, we are collaborating very closely with Arup on long-term the effect of a friendly city which is being built in China with Arup as the design consultants. UK academics are networking with Chinese academics in that same area on that whole design. That will bring knowledge back into this country that will affect design.
Professor Diamond: One of the things in the social sciences is that Chinese social science I would have to say is slightly less developed than some other areas of Chinese science, but one which is expanding very quickly, and we are working very closely both with the British Academy and our colleagues in the Chinese Academy of Social Science to develop our links and to collaborate very well, not only in research but also in the provision of infrastructure so that we are organising a workshop on international social science databases which the Chinese are hosting in Beijing next month.
Professor Blakemore: Could I add to that and point out that one of the barriers to international collaboration is differences in culture, attitudes to administration and ethics and so on. Perhaps that is particularly pronounced in parts of the developing world with which we are not as familiar as we are with working with Europe and the United States. There is I think right now certainly very recently an MRC delegation in China working out the details of a conference that the Chinese have agreed to on research governance and ethics, a Chinese‑UK research ethics collaboration, (CURE), which I think will be very useful not only in informing ourselves on the UK side about the attitude to research ethics in China but laying the framework for facilitating collaboration in future by adopting common principles of governance, principles of medical research.
Q28 Chairman: The point of this little bout of questioning was really to ask if the Government is giving a strong lead in supporting these international collaborations or is it actually following the lead of the research councils? You mentioned earlier how difficult it was putting all the bits together. If we are for instance a ministry or a department of science and innovation as a government department, would it be easy to get these decisions made and would it be easy to get policy direction?
Professor Diamond: I believe the critical thing is that we simply have to have 'joined-upness' across those government departments which do have an interest in this area. Certainly we are getting a very strong government lead. It is difficult to say who is pulling and who is tugging because we are all pushing at great speed but we are certainly not dragging government along behind. We are very much getting a lead from government. However the organisation of science and innovation is within government, there still have to be strong links and strong 'joined-upness' for example with the FCO and where we see that happening, then it is much easier obviously to move forward. That is really what we need to happen. Also, I stress one of the major partners with GSIF are the RDAs. In government I believe it is not only central government but local government as well which needs to be joined up because of the initiatives for example around the siting of large facilities or whatever.
Chairman: We keep coming back to that central theme about how we get these things joined up and effective.
Q29 Dr Harris: International collaboration, it is claimed by some people giving evidence to us, has not been given a high enough profile by research councils generally. Do you think there is something in that at all? Without repeating everything that you have said in your evidence that you are doing, do you think that is a fair point?
Dr Richards: Certainly from the EPSRC's point of view, it probably has been a fair point but if you now take our latest strategic plan, one of our strategies in there is international engagement, so we are lifting the profile on that. For EPSRC that is probably fair comment. We are now doing something about it. I do not want to repeat myself. It is a feature in our strategic plan. Our council has just discussed that. The intention is that in a year's time that will be discussed again and we will be asking what has moved on and what have you done since then and what are your future plans. So it is moving ahead.
Q30 Dr Harris: Would anyone like to disagree with my question?
Professor Diamond: I think I would disagree with it. The whole initiative towards removing barriers and removing double jeopardy internationally has come from the ESRC. In the ESRC we have had a real lead over a long period of time of making it a really important feature of our agenda. That is not to say that we are complacent in any way because we are trying to move it increasingly up the agenda and be seen to be playing a real lead, not only in raising the profile in the UK but playing a real lead in social scientific policy internationally.
Dr Richards: It is not that EPSRC did not work internationally. We have had collaboration with NSF to the extent that we have said that because of their regulations we will let them do the peer review rather than having double jeopardy but we are trying to raise the profile.
Q31 Dr Harris: What about the alternative suggestion, which is not contradictory, that because there are so many different research councils and so many different research council schemes for international collaboration, the picture painted to potential overseas collaborators is chaotic and complicated and not as straightforward in comparison with other countries?
Professor Mason: To answer your first question, very simply, in the case of the STFC clearly the criticism is not valid because it is all to do with international. A more useful comment perhaps is this. As someone interested in that area, I do not see any lack of engagement or understanding from my research council colleagues in the international agenda. I think we are all moving forward in that and dealing with very difficult issues. In terms of the profile that overseas potential collaborators see, I think the reverse is even more so, that with the various different ways in which science is organised in countries, there is no standard and everyone works differently. That is one of the barriers that we have to deal with, to understand how science is organised in target countries and to work to get through those barriers.
Q32 Dr Harris: The point I was making was that if people wanted to collaborate with us, they do not just have to work out how the UK works; they have to work out the different approaches taken.
Professor Mason: My point was that that problem is shared by our people wanting to work abroad. It is not that everybody else has a much simpler system than we do. I think they are all complicated.
Professor Diamond: Can I put this in a slightly different way, without trying to appear trite? If you were, shall we say, an economist in the United States of America, you do not look at the UK and say, "Shall I collaborate with a particle physicist or a social anthropologist or a medical person?" You are more likely to say, "I want to work with an economist", and therefore, as has already been said by Keith Mason, it is about people-to-people links and so your links tend to be with economists and they know that it is the SRC and you are not looking across the entire portfolio. However, we are very clear in our minds that there is a real need sometimes for there to be a one-stop portal if you like to enable people to come from one place, which says 'Research Councils UK' and to be directed to the appropriate place, and that is precisely one of the reasons why we are opening offices in Beijing, Delhi and Washington.
Q33 Dr Harris: We do not need to get into a tête-à-tête but one of the issues is that there should be cross-boundary working between research councils so that you can always choose the pure economist or the pure medical researcher. It is the Royal Society and not me that says: "the structure of the RCs is overly complicated in comparison to scientific institutions in other European countries and the USA, which are able" - in their opinion - "to present a much more coherent face to the international community. The research councils need to ensure this is not just about UK science as a brand when working with overseas partners." Do you think that is a fair statement which you have to overcome? Do you argue with its premise?
Professor Blakemore: I hesitate to contradict a statement from the venerable Royal Society but I am the RCUK representative on the EuroHORCS committees and the SF committees and the whole issue of the complexity of funding institutions and portals for application and negotiation with European agencies is recognised Europe-wide as an issue. In fact, EuroHORCS has just produced a draft document to try to guide overseas researchers, particularly young researchers, in finding the right access point for their areas of interest. This is recognised as a problem across Europe. I do not see in those discussions the UK being singled out as a particular offender but even say in France and Germany there is a multiplicity of funding organisations.
Q34 Chairman: With respect, that is not an acceptable answer, is it, Colin, because what we should be doing is to say that we have actually solved this problem? I think the question that Dr Harris is putting is: where are we going to resolve this problem? When the Royal Society says that overall it is not clear what the international strategy of the research councils is, that is quite a powerful statement. That is a reasonably intelligent body of people.
Professor Diamond: It suggests to me that they have not read the international strategy of Research Councils UK or the individual international strategies of the research councils.
Q35 Dr Harris: What they say is that although the research councils have a sophisticated strategic approach to their thematic priorities, it would appear that some of the councils have yet to incorporate a coherent international dimension into their overall strategy. I understand you are going to plead not guilty to that and reject that but is it a concern that a stakeholder like the Royal Society is of that view or are you going to say that is typical Royal Society "never have been, they want more funding directed through us for this"?
Professor Diamond: Clearly it is a concern and that is why we are delighted that we have invited Dr Cox to join RCUK, e.g. for a meeting the month after next. I am sure that we will be delighted to raise the points that they have made with you with him to take them on further.
Q36 Chairman: We are actually trying to add value to this process rather than just being critical.
Professor Diamond: We do not think you are being critical. We just disagree with that.
Q37 Dr Harris: I am just reading the evidence we have had. Could you clarify for the record who Dr Cox is?
Dr Richards: He is the Executive Secretary of the Royal Society. Just to talk about that forward strategy and how it aligns with ours, we do not want to end up doing things in duplication. That is exactly why Ian has said it has come to RCUK to give a wider discourse so that again we get a line in various areas.
Q38 Dr Harris: What approach do you have and what mechanisms do you have for horizon scanning in respect of subject areas of potential international partners for collaboration?
Dr Richards: Within EPSRC, each of the research programmes has a strategic advisory team which is drawn from researchers and industry but it is not necessarily composed of, let us say, chemists. They meet three to four times a year and advise the programme manager on what is breaking and what is making and to whom we should be talking. We also talk to industry. We have a user panel composed of industrialists. We have a technical opportunities panel, composed of senior academics who advise at executive level. So we get them bottom up and top down.
Professor Diamond: Certainly the Research Directors' Group is part of RCUK, so RCUK has a whole has been developing multi research council programmes; we will be taking international advice on the best way to go forward and always involving an international element. In much of our peer review and commissioning panels we include international experts and increasingly we are participating in partnerships with sister research councils to take forward horizon scanning. So, for example the ESRC, together with a range of European research councils in a collaboration known as NORFACE, is now funding a joint programme currently of research following horizon scanning of some of the most important areas and discussing that. There is one programme that is going to be funded on religion as an emerging social force. There are other areas on population change and on the environment where research councils together across Europe are saying, "These are important issues to all of us. Therefore, there is much attraction if we put the money into a pot and work together to collaborate in that way".
Professor Blakemore: I wanted to summarise as I see it the three levels at which as it were strategic development of international opportunities is tackled. The first, and it has been emphasised by Keith, is at the level of the individual researcher. So much of the bottom-up tripping into action with other scientists, the productive collaboration of high quality, has to be generated from the interests of international researchers. Others are at a subject level, and I think it is quite appropriate that individual research councils representing academic disciplines broadly should be responsible for developing their own international strategies. Just like my colleagues have said for their councils, the MRC has an international group with a strategic advisory structure that advises on exactly that. I think we are increasingly recognising the importance of working together within RCUK to brand UK science collectively and efforts like the establishment of the international team within RCUK, the development of a specific RCUK international strategy this year and the collective efforts that have led to the offices in China and in the United States and almost certainly in India are very good examples of that.
Professor Diamond: May I quickly add one other area, which is specific largely to ESRC and also to AHRC and that is that we fund something called area studies, which is actually where UK researchers and those from other countries have a real study of international areas. That always tends to involve collaborations with those people in those countries, and it can have a real impact not only on the development of research in areas internationally but also, if you like, a potential impact on government policy by really understanding those areas.
Q39 Dr Harris: My question was about horizon scanning.
Dr Richards: EPSRC has regular and international reviews of aspects of the programme. We have just finished one on information communication technologies. They very often point out to us what is lacking, what is missing, what we need to address. Two years ago physics said, "You are weak in quantum coherence, so do something about that". At the end of this year we have the materials international review. We respond to that with an action plan and if we have the resource, we can do something about it.
Professor Diamond: It is exactly the same for ESRC.
Q40 Dr Harris: My last question is one to Colin Blakemore in particular. The Government says it is interested in international collaboration and has mechanisms to do it. We have had evidence from the Government. Sometimes domestic political exigencies can get in the way of that. For example, if the MRC was told that it had to devote more of its translational budgets towards dealing with the needs of the NHS, more than it is doing already or directing it more, then do you accept that that might provide a risk to what you would otherwise like to do in respect of investment in overseas work, such as the Gambia unit or indeed diseases of the developing world that are, generally speaking, not necessary NHS priorities?
Professor Blakemore: This sound like a side question cleverly slipped into this discussion. If you are asking me to comment on new translational initiatives that might conceivably be supported within the Spending Review, then it is impossible for me to do that until we know the outcome of the Spending Review. All I can say is that the proposals that we have put forward for strengthening translational activities in collaboration with the Department of Health are things that we wanted to do that we do not see that in any way as compromising our activities elsewhere, either in basic research in this country or overseas.
Q41 Dr Harris: I just meant that if there was a mechanism like there is with translation-led support and the alphabet soup of the body above that that is directing research, your funding into NHS priorities, there is not an equivalent pressure to direct funding into international research areas.
Professor Blakemore: I would not at all put that spin on the intended function of the Translational Medicine Board or the Public Health Research Board. Those are strategic boards which are owned by and are part of the MRC and NIHR and will be working with us as part of our structure to advise us.
Chairman: We will leave it at that point. That was delicately answered.
Q42 Linda Gilroy: Looking at funding co-ordination, the Royal Society in their evidence have suggested that to get the full impact out of the aim to establish ourselves as scientific partners of choice around the world, the research councils should be prepared to back this up with dedicated budgets. Would this be of benefit and if not, why not?
Professor Diamond: I think there is a very interesting question in the context of extremely tight scientific budgets more generally. Our policy has always been not to say that we will have an international pot but simply to say that we will remove barriers to international collaboration at any time, and then to use scientific excellence as the criteria. I think that that is a very strong point that we need to hold on to. Having said that, very clearly, where there is a need, for example the ESRC together with the British Academy has schemes to bring researchers from America or from South Asia or from the Arab world or from China to the UK in order to develop the conversations in major centres which will lead to subsequent research proposals, then you need that seed corn funding. I have already talked about our collaborations with other research councils in Europe, which again has had pilots to lead to things happening. I think what you have to do is not necessarily to have pots of money but to remove barriers and at the same time to enable conversations and collaborations to happen.
Dr Richards: I agree wholeheartedly with what Ian has said. However, in my experience I have found that some countries will not move and will not support responsive mode applications. They say, "What is the size of your dedicated budget level?" That is why this year the EPSRC has created a dedicated budget to catalyse international collaboration. It is not the sole cause of activity but certainly it is evidence that we are in the game seriously.
Q43 Linda Gilroy: You mentioned how we need to work in to achieve excellence in science but what about what was mentioned earlier on, building capacity in areas where we do not have strength but where it may be a national foreign policy goal to build up that capacity again? Does not the question of having dedicated budgets arise? I would like to hear from the other research councils.
Professor Diamond: Can I disagree with you? Where there is a market need to develop capacity or where there is if you like a market failure in terms of the UK's ability to deliver something, then clearly you must have directed research and certainly ESRC does that an enormous amount. You have directed research and you enable collaborations to happen, which would expand the capacity of the UK to deliver in that area.
Q44 Linda Gilroy: ESRC again has a framework apparently to do that, from what you are saying but what about the other research councils? Do they have dedicated budgets or anything approaching that to deal with that particular issue?
Professor Mason: As I said before, essentially everything that we do in the STFC, or a large fraction of it, is essentially a dedicated international budget because a lot of our work is subject to international organisations and the work that is supported by them. I think we already do that. I just pick up the point, and it echoes what I was trying to say earlier, that we can made decisions in terms of scientific need but if there are wider strategic issues involved, then we need to have joined-up government thinking about how we can go forward and that should be appropriately resourced if it is found to be something that needs doing.
Professor Blakemore: I am sure that my colleagues would agree in what I say on behalf of MRC and that is that we would want to commit money to international working without jeopardising normal standards of equality of assessment of what we do. In that context, most of the councils have found that committing dedicated budgets to any particular scheme can sometimes be a hostage to fortune if the budget is not met with appropriate opportunities of high quality. The stage at which to commit particular sums seems to me to be the point at which you have assessed the quality of what is available. Certainly capacity-building programmes, for instance establishing programmes of overseas fellowships or investment as we have in institutes and units overseas, requires a decision about the nature of the budget on a long-term basis and we have done that. My own feeling is that the MRC would be reluctant to say that we will commit a certain percentage of our budget to international working and would make simply more general encouraging statements that the MRC of course is very keen to continue to develop its international collaboration and will, as appropriate, commit the funding to do that.
Q45 Linda Gilroy: So is that a modified no to having a dedicated international budget, is it? Can I then ask you about a particular aspect which has emerged from science community comment on what happens in relation to developing research projects emerging from initial funding for networking events? There is money available to create these networking enabling events but how does the transition happen from investing in that to going on and taking advantage of that?
Professor Blakemore: I can give on example of that. In the case of MRC the decision to make a specific call for proposals in the area of flu, which has led to a lot of collaborative work with China, was based on network events of exactly that sort, first of all a visiting delegation to southeast Asia and then an international workshop that would help in London to advise on the structure of that call. So the intention of course is to follow up networking events with funding programmes when it is considered appropriate. But one has to accept that sometimes the initial pilot stage of that kind of exploration is going to come up with the answer that is not appropriate at this stage to invest.
Q46 Linda Gilroy: Are there also events in your experience then which fall by the way because there is not enough funding? Is it an area which needs increased funding and the same question to the other witnesses?
Professor Blakemore: If you are giving me the opportunity to say that the research councils need increased funding then I am delighted to accept!
Q47 Linda Gilroy: Within the order of priorities that are there is there a need to look at that with greater favour?
Professor Blakemore: I think you have touched on an important point and that is that any discussion about collaborating, spending money overseas has to be tensioned against the primary obligation of the research councils to support the science base in this country.
Professor Mason: Just some comments to add to that, one has to recognise that it is relatively cheap to start a network and to organise a few get-togethers and if that activity results in a more concrete proposal it rapidly gets more expensive, of course, to support the work that comes out of that. The fact of the point that I was making earlier was that such proposals then have to survive in the white heat of scientific peer review and have to be of a very high standard to get funded because we do not have the resource to fund anything but the very, very highest standard research for which we get proposals. So inevitably a number of activities will fall by the wayside at that point, and it gets back to the issue of do we, for other non-scientific strategic reasons, want to keep such activities alive to the next stage and should that be resourced appropriately?
Professor Diamond: That is where sometimes there is the point that you made earlier where there may be a real need to develop capacity in a particular area in the UK and then you do have to keep things going and ask the question, we have brought the best researchers in this area together, perhaps working with collaborators where we do not have the quality of the proposals that we need let us go back to the drawing board, let us keep the pot open and let us work out now how we are going to develop capacity which will be of the scientific quality, because at the end of the day there is no point in putting a pot around science which is not good science.
Dr Richards: We have a mixed mode where from a network we might already decide that this is an area we want to pursue so there will be some target funding there, but we might form a network, as people say, and proposals might go forward, go for responsive mode and then have to stand in competition because everything else goes through peer review. So it is not a question of walking away, it is because it is the peer review which decides the standards, so some will fall by the wayside because of that.
Q48 Linda Gilroy: Finally on this sector, you have already given us some insights into how you are taking steps to deal with the issue of double jeopardy, particularly within the context of Europe, but to the three councils other than ESRC, do you have signed agreements to address the problem of double jeopardy?
Dr Richards: Yes, we do.
Professor Mason: In our case we work primarily through the international bodies to which we pay subscriptions, and of course we have a whole process of arriving at a consensus for certainly strategic areas that we want to get into, which avoids the double jeopardy issue.
Q49 Linda Gilroy: So there is a transparent way of dealing with this? It maybe does not amount to a signed agreement, which would be appropriate to you. And the MRC?
Professor Blakemore: In the memoranda we have certainly referred to the issue. I think it is most acute for us in Europe where the issue has risen directly in connection with MRC collaboration in Euro CORS schemes, Collaborative Research Schemes, and we have tried to address that question and have reached agreement on avoiding double jeopardy by accepting the single process of peer review.
Q50 Linda Gilroy: Outside of the European Union what possibilities are there for trying to come to that sort of understanding, Professor Diamond?
Professor Diamond: For our Council we have agreements with Australia and we have agreements with Korea. We hope to have an agreement of a similar nature with China very soon and with the United States we have particular agreements - and when I say particular agreements they are in particular areas of social science and that is not for the want of trying on our part, but it is very much an issue for the Americans, and other colleagues you will have heard this morning making exactly the same point. So there is a real desire for that partnership where there are bureaucratic reasons within the United States why it is not so easy for that to happen.
Dr Richards: At the EPSRC we have MOUs with China, Taiwan, Korea, USA and Japan. With the NSF, which is our closest body, what happens there is we have agreements with usually the programme director on how to avoid double jeopardy. So there is one in chemistry and there is one in materials particularly. And in the course of the difficulties that the NSF has what we usually do is we say we will accept the NSF peer review system, which is made transparent and known to all the UK applicants, as long as there is a UK participant in there as well and there are also some UK referees on the applications.
Professor Blakemore: Our experience has been that it is very important to settle these issues before beginning the process and, if possible, to arrive at agreement on the point of peer review and how the process will be managed in advance. I can give a particular example. The MRC negotiated handling the international peer review process for the autism-genome project, which is a project with co-funding from North America and from the UK, and that agreement to use a single point of peer review was decided in advance.
Q51 Mr Newmark: Professor Blakemore, you alluded to some challenges but what challenges do you expect research council officers in Washington and Beijing to face? You touched on the cultural issues but I am wondering what else you see out there? It would be helpful to try and differentiate between the sort of challenges that one has in the US, which I suspect are slightly less than they are in China?
Professor Blakemore: I think in the US the challenge is very different because in the US the challenge of the office will be to build on existing considerable strengths. Despite the statistics that Evans presented the UK is very much a preferred collaborator with leading the US scientists already. So I think that the office will be principally looking at other forms of interaction other than the peer to peer, senior scientist to scientist interactions, which are already very healthy. On the Chinese side I would say that the principal issue will be a matter of catch-up. I think Germany and France are ahead of us in having developed their connectivity with China. The Germans have had an international centre attached to their industry for several years, which is already a well recognised point of contact for Chinese scientists, students and so on. However, let me qualify that by the well known statistic that there are now, I think, more Chinese students in the UK even than in the US, so they are managing to find their way here even without the assistance of an office in Beijing, which we hope will greatly facilitate that process.
Q52 Mr Newmark: Just touching on a point which Professor Diamond made, which is this whole concept of joined-up thinking, I know, because I visited the FCO sites innovation network posts in Boston. How does this fit in with the work that they are actually carrying out? Are they mutually exclusive, are they working together?
Professor Blakemore: Absolutely not and the science innovation network in Beijing facilitated the discussions about the establishment of the office. They are a partner in the use of the office, and I think it is a very good example of a well trained up process.
Professor Diamond: Not only that, the original plan was for the office to be in the Embassy but the Embassy actually found the facilities for the office, and exactly the same with regard to the Embassy in Washington and indeed in Delhi, that the ambassadors are incredibly proactive in working with us to ensure that the office can be centrally located with the Embassy.
Q53 Mr Newmark: So how are you going to measure success and the impact of the offices in Beijing and Washington? You say we have one in Delhi, but I did not think we did?
Professor Diamond: There is a plan to develop one.
Q54 Mr Newmark: So as one measures success, having measured success I am assuming that one will then trigger a decision to go into Delhi?
Professor Diamond: The decision to go to Delhi has been triggered but it is just that ---
Q55 Mr Newmark: Okay, so how are you measuring success and impact of the Beijing and Washington offices to then have already decided to open up in India?
Professor Blakemore: You are quite right, we need to have the metrics for that and that is an issue which the RCUK international team will be tackling.
Q56 Mr Newmark: Professor Blakemore, you said will be tackling it but you have already made a decision to open up in Delhi, so you must have had some measure of success to have made that decision, or are just simply saying, "We just know, gut feel, there are great opportunities for us in India, therefore come what may we are setting up there"?
Professor Blakemore: I am not sure that gut feel is such a bad approach to dealing with China and it is perfectly obvious that China is an increasingly important player internationally, so it is very important for the UK to be working in China.
Q57 Mr Newmark: In China as opposed to the US - and I am not necessarily reflecting my relationship with my wife - but how do you stop a syndrome of what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine in terms of research that is carried out and work there, as opposed to the US? Is there any cultural challenge of being truly collaborative in work that is being done there?
Professor Blakemore: I think that the norms of the ownership of research are internationally accepted as represented through co-publication. If you are talking about intellectual property, that is another and important difficult issue.
Q58 Mr Newmark: But is that a separate issue from this or is that very much part and parcel of what we are trying to achieve here?
Professor Blakemore: It touches on Keith's point about the importance of using the overseas contacts to develop innovation as well as developing research effort, but that is going to require input from other aspects of ---
Mr Newmark: I still do not know how you are measuring success.
Q59 Chairman: Can I bring in Dr Richards there because you have been nodding ---
Dr Richards: Just a comment on the IP collaboration. I have been having discussions with Arden Bement, who is the Director of NSF, close collaboration, and we have all agreed that there is a double jeopardy issue that you have to get over and agree upon. Then there are the outcomes of the research. Okay, if it is a paper that is fine but more and more it is about economic impact and there you have to address the intellectual property rights - who owns them, especially on collaborative research, and who assigns them. We do not know the answer to that yet because we are going to have to agree those with the agencies we are dealing with and the lawyers are going to have to come in.
Q60 Mr Newmark: Is that more of a problem, for example, in China and India than the US?
Dr Richards: I was talking to a Chinese scientist last week and they are now, from what I understood, becoming more alert to the fact that they have to agree IP rather than, if you like, put it to one side in these issues. If they are going to join the global sisterhood of nations they are going to have to conform more with their behaviour.
Q61 Mr Newmark: But if we are allocating resources and IP is the ultimate end game with a lot of this work here, is our money best spent continuing to forge ahead with continuing to develop relationships with the US because they understand what needs to be done? Is the educational challenge in China educating them on the need to get with what goes on elsewhere in the world too much of a challenge, or do you think they will generally get there?
Professor Mason: I do not think there is any more or less of a threat from the US in terms of IP than China or India.
Q62 Mr Newmark: Tell that to the music industry.
Professor Mason: Right, point taken, but certainly in our areas. The key thing is that if you generate IP the issue for us is that we have to have the resources to capitalise on it and no amount of lawyers or whatever will protect IP that you are not using, so that is the key thing that we have to recognise.
Q63 Mr Newmark: How will international offices be supported - and this again comes down to money? Will money be taken from other budgets or not, or is the government effectively widening the amount of money it is giving for these sorts of projects?
Professor Blakemore: The research councils have agreed to share the cost of these international offices on the grounds that there are benefits to all of us from doing so.
Professor Diamond: We have taken a judgment.
Q64 Mr Newmark: Is the pie bigger or is it the same size pie but you are just reallocating money.
Professor Diamond: It is strategic reallocation of our budget because we judge that there are significant potential advantages to having these offices in these countries for slightly different reasons, as Colin has explained, and that therefore great British science and indeed the opportunity, as I stated right at the beginning, is to encourage the very best scientists to collaborate with us and to make it easy for them so to do, and then after they have perhaps spent time in the UK to have, if you like, a focal point where they see their relationship being nurtured and maintained over time; that through that there is a very strong strategic use of our budgets and across all the research councils the amount of money being spent is not hugely significant, I would have to say, although it is clearly enough to make the operation happen.
Q65 Mr Newmark: So if it is a fixed budget there are clearly users. Is there any area of concern that you have as to where money is being taken from or are you saying that the amounts are so small it is not going to have an impact?
Professor Diamond: I am not saying the amounts are so small but in any organisation you have a budget constraint and at any time you have to allocate your resources so as to maximise the impact that you think you are going to have, and the judgment that we have all taken at the moment in conversation is that the best way to allocate these particular resources at the moment is to put them into these offices because there will be measurable benefits in the medium-term in terms of increased collaboration with those countries, which we really need to do.
Q66 Mr Newmark: Just changing tack slightly, do you envisage a change of direction for the UK research office in Brussels to enable a horizon scanning function?
Professor Blakemore: The UK research office in Brussels already of course does horizon scanning and it has been very useful in advising the research councils on new developments in Framework Programmes particularly and new opportunities.
Q67 Mr Newmark: Is it appropriate to limit UK research office services to universities and other organisations who actually pay a subscription and will this model be run in the Beijing and Washington offices on a similar basis?
Dr Richards: I think our sister council, BBSRC might be better placed to answer that sort of question; they manage UKRO on behalf of all of the research councils.
Mr Newmark: You must have an idea whether it is going to be a subscription based service or not?
Q68 Chairman: You all pay into this, do you not? Are you saying that you do not know what you get out of it?
Dr Richards: No. The actual question was with regard to the policy I thought might be better answered by the BBSRC.
Professor Diamond: Very simply, we all subscribe into UKRO, we are all subscribing into Beijing and we are all subscribing into Washington; it is a joint agreement across all the research councils that this is a good thing to do. All research councils are part of this and it was a decision taken ---
Q69 Mr Newmark: So it is global, it is not just limited country by country.
Professor Blakemore: We are certainly in discussion with UK universities about their interest in using the office in Beijing and we would formalise that arrangement if it placed demands on the office that could not easily be met and were not clearly in the interests of the research councils to support. So we anticipate and hope that UK universities either collectively or individually will be joining the work of the office in Beijing and therefore contributing financially to it. Exactly what form that contribution takes has not yet been formalised.
Q70 Chairman: So if you do not pay the subscription you do not get access to an office which is being paid for by the British taxpayers?
Professor Blakemore: I think we have to judge that on a case by case basis initially. We do not have a policy yet for how we will interact with UK universities, although of course one has to say that the work of the research councils is largely delivered into UK universities, so just being there will benefit them. But we anticipate that many UK universities, if not collectively, will want to use these offices to get access to the local expertise, knowledge about applicants for places to work in UK universities and so on, and if they do so, if it stretches beyond the clear interests of the research councils to support that effort then of course we will negotiate charging.
Professor Diamond: One could not simply say that our resource will provide, if you like, unlimited access for 140 universities or whatever. If the demand was such for us to employ new staff to be able to take some of these agendas onwards then we might have a sensible conversation, for example with Universities UK, about how the resource could be made available to meet demand.
Q71 Mr Newmark: I have one final specific question, which is how do you monitor developments which may have a negative effect on UK research, and the example is the EU Physical Agents Directive, which obviously had an impact on the whole MRI sector and how could this be improved?
Professor Blakemore: Can I say that the research councils were quite active in responding to the challenge of the UK Physical Agents Directive. It is actually true that we did not have advance warning of the potential impact on clinical research use of MRI, but I have to say neither did anyone else that was affected by it elsewhere in Europe - it rather came out of left field. Actually I think that the Commission had not fully realised what those impacts would be before they passed that directive. I hope you will agree from your own inquiry on that issue that the MRC, in fact the scientific community in this country was actually very agile and effective in mobilising arguments which perhaps mitigated the potential damaging effect of that directive.
Q72 Chris Mole: Brooks took us to Brussels just now. The European Framework Programme is the third largest element of European Union general spending. How important is it to research in the UK? I note from the statistics in FP4 and 5 that the UK took the biggest slice of the cake, but Germany has an FP7, if I have the numbers right.
Dr Richards: On the industry side, yes.
Q73 Chris Mole: Is that something about which we should be concerned?
Professor Blakemore: The Framework Programme is a very significant funding mechanism in Europe. However, it is, I think, only six per cent of the total expenditure on publicly funded R & D.
Q74 Chris Mole: In the UK?
Professor Blakemore: In the whole of Europe. So 94 per cent of funding is actually handled through national agencies. As you say, the UK has been disproportionately successful in previous Framework Programmes despite some of the difficulties with which everyone is familiar in dealing with the Framework Programme processes. The Framework Programme remains the principal mechanism of collaboration within Europe and therefore is extremely important to the research councils. However, my own view is that the research councils should be looking for other mechanisms for working with their colleagues in Europe, and they do so in parallel with and complementary to the mechanisms that are offered through the Framework Programmes. So I am sure that all of my colleagues will be able to cite many examples of fruitful interactions with European colleagues outside the Framework Programme.
Q75 Chris Mole: Do you think they have begun to address those concerns about engaging with the Framework programmers? Are there any problems that exist with other European funding programmes where the auditors come round and take the money away after the event, after you have spent it?
Professor Blakemore: There are features of the seventh Framework Programme, which we are now just entering, which certainly are intended to address some of the criticisms about bureaucracy and too intense monitoring and so on in previous Framework Programmes, but the most significant development is of course the emergence of the European Research Council, which will draw an increasing fraction of the Framework Programme budget and which is intended to be a relatively independent executive agency, less cluttered by the bureaucratic baggage that is familiar in aspects of the Framework Programmes.
Q76 Chris Mole: What are the challenges of the ERC for you all?
Professor Blakemore: There are several challenges. First, the scale of its agenda compared with the scale of its budget. The ERC is intended to operate as a response mode funding agency funding the highest quality research without barriers, without juste retour, without the need for networking across the whole of Europe in every scientific area, and its starting budget is less than €300 million. That is a real challenge of demand management, a challenge which has not been very well met, we learn from the latest figures, with something like 9000 applications for the starting grant scheme, which is only one of the instruments offered by the ERC. So the first problem will be demand management. The second will be the fact that the ERC, although it has been granted initially a very significant and unusual degree of independence with a scientific council of considerable standing, with its own internal management structures and so on, it is in the end an Article 169 executive agency of the Commission, and legal advice implies that at any point the ERC could be taken back into direct ownership and direct control of the Commission. That is something to be nervous about and the nervousness, I know, is shared even by Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, who is the new Secretary-General of the ERC.
Q77 Chris Mole: Are there concerns about overlap with the work that you do because I was going to ask you how much overlap there is between the thematic priority areas of FP7 and those of your own research councils?
Professor Blakemore: Perhaps my colleagues as well are on advisory panels for the themes within the Framework Programme and I am certainly on the advisory panel for the health theme, and I have to say that I am still a bit bemused about the process that leads to the identification of these thematic areas, and I think that we should be pressing for more involvement of national agencies at an early stage in working up proposals for the thematic areas, rather than just being brought in to comment on them after decisions have been made.
Q78 Chris Mole: Can anyone shed any more light on that?
Professor Diamond: I think that is very true. One of the other areas, of course, as I am sure you are aware, with the Framework Programmes, has been the extent to which overheads are paid, so that one of the reasons of course is that some universities are not over keen for their researchers to prioritise European funding over funding which brings in more money for the same grant, so to speak.
Q79 Chris Mole: This is if we push FEC on them?
Professor Diamond: Yes.
Q80 Chris Mole: Is that going to be a problem as we go forward with institutes and universities not wanting to bid into Framework Programmes?
Professor Diamond: That has been something that has been said by some universities, that researchers are not encouraged with the overheads that are paid to make that a particular priority because clearly the levels of overheads which are paid will not cover the entire costs of the research.
Q81 Chairman: Do we now have an agreement from the Treasury that we do not in fact take funds back if in fact researchers get European grants?
Professor Blakemore: The cap on the receipt of European funding has been removed.
Professor Diamond: And we are very pleased about that.
Q82 Chris Mole: I was quite interested, Professor Blakemore, where we were going with the Framework thematic priorities. You were talking about the influence that the national councils might have on the development of that overall set of priorities. Presumably it is the Commission and the Parliament that get to comment in Brussels on that shape of that? It looks a little as though it might be historically industrially driven, which has been a feature of Framework funding.
Professor Diamond: I think there is every evidence of that historically and indeed it has only been in relatively recent Framework Programmes that, for example, the social science or indeed some of the more emerging areas of the economy have been acknowledged at all. I echo what Colin has said, there is a real need to engage those people who are thinking a lot about science horizon scanning in the development of areas such as that, and through some of the collaborations that virtually all research councils have had with their sister research councils in Europe there are examples of programmes jointly which can be developed through sensible horizon scanning across Europe, and I think there is a need for more in that in development of the Framework Programmes.
Q83 Chris Mole: The EIT is another institute that has come out of the Lisbon Process. What are your views on the European Institute of Technology? Are you supportive or is a waste of time and effort?
Dr Richards: It needs clarification.
Q84 Chris Mole: Is that a yes?
Dr Richards: It is a definite maybe. There are too many issues that unresolved there. Particularly recently the leading German energy producer, Aon, has said it does not want anything to do with it, which is a bit disturbing. So it is really not clear enough for me to say yes or no, I would just like to see more definition. It is not going to be like MIT, so its business model is not at all clear.
Q85 Chairman: The 2.4 billion that was going to be allocated to the European Institute of Technology, where is that money?
Dr Richards: I cannot answer that question. I guess the Commission might be holding it still somewhere.
Q86 Chairman: It seems to be a huge pot of money which is available, which is not going to be used for what appears to be very, very useful purposes.
Dr Richards: That is how it appears at the moment and that is why we would like more clarification on the issue.
Professor Diamond: I would not demur from that statement from the Chair.
Professor Blakemore: The EIT is aimed at improving facilitating knowledge transfer within Europe and that is unimpeachable - it is motherhood and apple pie. It is very hard to mobilise general objections but there have been so many objections to the specific business plan and structure of the EIT. One example is the fact that the Assembly of EUROHORCs, representing about 80 funding organisations across Europe, including all of the major funding organisations, issued a pretty strongly critical statement to the Commission about the details of the structure of the business case for the EIT. I hope that there is still time to go back and reanalyse how best to achieve the objective that we all sign up to of improving the mechanisms of knowledge transfer and innovation.
Q87 Chris Mole: I am sorry to come back to the thematic priorities again because I do not think I have quite got to the bottom of how you mesh your priorities with what is in Framework 7, or are you saying that because it is only six per cent of the research funding across Europe that that is not an issue, you just go with the flow?
Professor Blakemore: Of course the advisory meetings are an opportunity to comment on the themes and particularly on the scale of the funding devoted to particular schemes. The panel I am on has actually been quite effective in shifting balance of funding, and of course we are responsive then to the new opportunities which are offered through the identification of thematic areas and then would reflect them to some extent in our own strategy or the advice that we give to our own researchers.
Q88 Linda Gilroy: Earlier several of you stressed the importance of attracting students into the country but I want to ask a few questions about outward mobility of researchers and their careers. Was the concern reflected in the 2004 report funded by HFCE - and I do not know if some of you funded that research as well - justified; what are you doing about it; what sort of priority are you giving to enabling researchers to move about in international communities as a priority?
Professor Diamond: Many of us have schemes which enable junior researchers in particular to spend time in laboratories or in major institutes overseas. So, for example, AHRC and ESRC have a joint programme with the US Library of Congress, which enables UK researchers to spend time there, and also then to visit major institutions. So we try to make those opportunities happen. Clearly there are issues for UK going to other countries which are nothing to do with research councils - they often revolve around language, which has always been an issue for the UK in terms of any joint agreement to enable interaction with other countries.
Dr Richards: We have schemes that enable junior researchers to go overseas. One in particular, in the life sciences interface area they are required to spend 18 months of a three-year grant period abroad in a foreign laboratory and to bring that knowledge back to the UK. We try to encourage people to be as mobile as possible.
Q89 Linda Gilroy: In terms of priority, you have just said in one scheme, but how is that rated compared to the very strong theme that was emerging earlier of the importance to UK science of attracting people who will then go away and become ambassadors and have networks and links? Does it not work the other way around as well? It sounds as though it is rather a low border of priority that is being attached to that.
Dr Richards: Of course it works the other way as well and certainly our advanced research fellows, which I think is the area you are looking at, can have the opportunity, can use their funding to go and visit other laboratories and to engage in collaborations, build collaborations - they are not prevented from doing it. We set out what they can do but we put no limits, no real boundaries on it - it is for them to explore their abilities to the full.
Professor Diamond: All research students have a grant that goes to the university with their grant, which is to be used, if you like, for their support and many of them are used to attend, for example, international conferences and to be given those sorts of links. In fact for most research students I think it would be the norm so to do. In addition, in my own council if there are any reasons why it is good for a student to visit another country for fieldwork or to collaborate in another institution, then they simply have to write and information is normally given and that is funded.
Professor Blakemore: All MRC fellowships allow up to two years of work overseas and 12 per cent of awardees take up that opportunity.
Q90 Linda Gilroy: You have mentioned language skills, should more be done to boost language skills of UK researchers, particular languages? How might that be achieved and is there a role for research councils in that?
Professor Diamond: I think frankly there is a need. I do not necessarily think that it is something that research councils can do alone. I think the more that is done to improve language skills of people coming right the way through the education system in the UK personally would be very good. Are there things that the UK can do? Yes, there are and AHRC and ESRC together with the funding councils recognised that there was a real need for social scientists across many areas of social science who were working on issues around particular areas of the world and the four areas that were initially mentioned were Japan, China, the Arab world and Central and Eastern Europe - 12 different languages - and that is why we put together a major partnership called Language-Based Area Studies, which is funding five centres around the country with large numbers of research students, who will take their PhD over an extra year to enable them not only to become great social scientists but to properly be able to speak the language. Therefore we will, over time, for example, have economists working on the Chinese economy who are able properly to engage with China and understand those issues, or we will have political scientists working on the Arab world who are properly able to understand both the culture and language of Arabic. I think we have to do those things and to be proactive in making them happen, with the language teaching often having to be ab initio because otherwise it simply would not happen.
Q91 Linda Gilroy: I can understand that in your research council; how does it work in engineering and medicine?
Dr Richards: In engineering and physical sciences I am afraid the lingua franca is English across the world. People should go abroad to learn the culture - I certainly did when I was a student and post-op - but the lingua franca is English.
Q92 Linda Gilroy: So it is not such a pressing issue as far as international collaboration in the engineering sciences. Is the same true in medical?
Professor Blakemore: It is certainly not a problem, of course, in North America, and increasingly it is not a problem to laboratory working in Europe where the use of English in the laboratory on a daily basis is now just standard. But it is an issue in some parts of the world, especially still in China.
Q93 Linda Gilroy: Is anything being done to address that?
Professor Blakemore: I really agree with Ian that I think it is not principally the responsibility of the research councils and this needs to be tackled at a relatively early stage in education where HEIs do, of course, offer the opportunities for language and language training.
Q94 Linda Gilroy: Has the Medical Research Council been seeking to influence that agenda and particularly amongst students who might be beginning to specialise in secondary education towards medical careers?
Professor Blakemore: We have not done so, no.
Q95 Linda Gilroy: How successful have you found the money follows researchers scheme, which I understand is an initiative developed by something I had not come across until today, which glories in the acronym of EUROHORCs - the European Heads of Research Councils. Is that working from a UK point of view? Has there been much interest from UK researchers and do any of you have plans to extend that scheme outside the EU?
Professor Blakemore: All research councils have signed up to that scheme and I think it is a very important symbol of the commitment to mobility in Europe in the creation of a real European research area. I do not know whether I should express delight at the fact that no one has yet asked to transport their MRC support out of this country, so we do not yet have experience.
Q96 Chairman: Is it a successful scheme?
Professor Blakemore: The availability of it I think is important.
Professor Diamond: It is a scheme which has removed a barrier and therefore it is available, but I do not think it would be for us as research councils to propagate it. There are examples across research councils where a researcher, for example, moves a job and goes to work at a different university in Europe, and then it is not a problem for the money to go with him or her and that has to be a good thing. But it may not be something that is going to be taken up the whole time just simply because people are not dashing about between jobs.
Dr Richards: Since the agreement has come in in EPSRC nothing has happened. However, prior to that we had a separate agreement with Germany, and I think there were two people in the UK - they were actual German nationals but they had grants here and they moved back to Germany and they took the ESRC grant with them.
Q97 Linda Gilroy: But it sounds as if it is pretty minimal in its practical impact at the moment but a useful tool to have.
Dr Richards: Exactly.
Professor Mason: As somebody said, it is symbolic, and I think it is very valuable.
Q98 Linda Gilroy: Are there plans to extend it outside the EU? Is it appropriate to think in those terms? Is anybody thinking in those terms?
Professor Blakemore: If a situation arose on a case by case basis we would look favourably on that possibility.
Professor Diamond: I have to say that the reason it does not exist is probably because demand has not been high. If someone were to come it would be something that would be looked at very sensibly.
Professor Mason: Certainly in areas of my council I do not think the issue of mobility is really a big issue. I think people tend to move quite readily and they get jobs funded by people abroad.
Q99 Chairman: I thought that one of the aims of this though, Keith, was to try to support collaborative research so that you would get a grand and you would in fact be able to go to Manheim and be able to do your work there and then come back, and it surprises me that has not been taken up.
Professor Mason: It has not in my subject area so far. As I say, people do go to Manheim but they get funded locally.
Professor Diamond: There are often extraneous to research reasons why people do not wish to go and spend long periods of time. Communication is such now that people can collaborate across international boundaries and do so by, for example, using relatively short visits of face to face and a large amount of electronic communication and that can work really very well, and so you do not need to move lock stock and barrel and therefore take the money with you.
Q100 Linda Gilroy: Finally, you have said that there are other mechanisms to encourage UK researchers to be mobile. Some of them have come out in the course of the earlier questions. Are there ones that you finally want to make sure that we are aware of in the context of today's session and how might we encourage more UK researchers to go abroad to non-English speaking countries? Are there barriers at the moment?
Dr Richards: I do not think there are barriers. I think that all research councils have various vehicles - overseas travel grants - which enable people to go there. I think the germane question is what is the drive for them to go there? Rather than just force them to go what is the strategic reason for getting that engagement? I would say it is to gain new knowledge; it is to gain expertise, to get research collaborations going in particular areas.
Q101 Linda Gilroy: Presumably again in those areas where we need more capacity and areas where we have strengths.
Dr Richards: Exactly or where they have a particular perspective on the research, which we do not have in the UK, to try and bring that knowledge back into the UK.
Professor Diamond: I think the one thing that we have said to you is that these are areas - for example, the international reviews that the EPSRC do - where we are really taking an active role to identify areas where capacity is needed and then we strategically use funding to say how are we going to address this particular issue.
Q102 Linda Gilroy: To return to a point made earlier about whether there is sufficient government input into identifying those areas where we may need to make up for any global competitiveness issues, is there enough of that?
Dr Richards: It is increasingly caused by the formation of the Technology Strategy Board, which is becoming an arm's length body. I think that can take on some of that role from that point of view, but then it is for other bodies to get the joined-upness that Ian referred to earlier that we all want to see and provide the information to the research councils, to point out, "Look, in five years' time we are going to need these sets of skills, can you get cracking on it now, please?" It is that sort of joined-upness that we need.
Chairman: Could I therefore bring this session to a close and to thank Professor Blakemore, Professor Diamond, Professor Mason and Dr Richards for your interesting comments this morning? Thank you very much indeed and thanks to my Committee.