UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 472-ii

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COmmittee

 

INTERNATIONAL POLICIES AND ACTIVITIES OF THE RESEARCH COUNCILS

 

WEDNESDAY 6 JUNE 2007

PROFESSOR STUART PALMER and PROFESSOR ALAN JENKINS

PROFESSOR LORNA CASSELTON, DR BERNIE JONES and DR LLOYD ANDERSON

Evidence heard in Public Questions 103 - 234

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 6 June 2007

Members present

Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair

Dr Evan Harris

Dr Brian Iddon

Chris Mole

Mr Brooks Newmark

________________

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Stuart Palmer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick; and Professor Alan Jenkins, Director of the Water Science Programme, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, gave evidence.

Q103 Chairman: Good morning to our witnesses this morning, Professor Stuart Palmer, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of University of Warwick, and Professor Alan Jenkins, the Director of the Water Science Programme, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Thank you both very, very much indeed for coming this morning. This is the penultimate session on our inquiry looking across the Research Councils at international policies and activities, so we are grateful to you for giving evidence to us this morning. May I begin with you, Professor Palmer, and ask, clearly much of science is global these days, so how important is international collaboration to the UK?

Professor Palmer: You are quite right that research is indeed global. Research is both competitive globally and collaborative globally and, for the UK, it is absolutely crucial that we are able to choose the highest quality international partners to join in our research projects. In the UK, we do not have every facility and we do not have every area of expertise and, to make progress in areas now which are interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, you really have to engage with your complementary partners in other parts of the world.

Q104 Chairman: Professor Jenkins, would you echo that?

Professor Jenkins: Yes, I would echo that and I would also add that some of the biggest problems that we face at the moment are truly global in extent and they need a global approach.

Q105 Chairman: So, we could not manage without international collaboration? We could not simply bury our heads and do our own thing?

Professor Jenkins: No, I do not believe that we could. For example, the area of climate change and its impacts and the prediction of future climate change is a good example of where the UK could not realistically go alone.

Q106 Chairman: The obvious question then is, how good are we at it? How successful are we?

Professor Jenkins: I do not have the direct metrics in front of me. I believe we have specialist niches. In the environment area, I would consider that we have a specialist niche in terms of, for example, the building and application of these big global models. So, in the environment field and in issues to do with quality of life or policy support in terms of the environment, I would say that the UK are leaders. Not perhaps the leaders but we are up there with the frontlines.

Q107 Chairman: You mentioned earlier that we cannot obviously do everything ourselves and certainly Professor Palmer made that point. Do you feel that we are strategically focusing our efforts internationally? Do you sense that there is a strategic plan for our international collaborations?

Professor Jenkins: Again, being a little parochial on the environmental issue and I apologise for that.

Q108 Chairman: That is all right.

Professor Jenkins: I would say, no, there is not a strategic plan. What we need is more communication between Government and researchers, we need more cooperation and coordination of our activities and above all we need increased collaboration to make ourselves most effective. At the moment, I do not think that we are necessarily strategically following a plan in the area of the environment.

Q109 Chairman: Professor Palmer, you are nodding your head.

Professor Palmer: Yes.

Q110 Chairman: Do you think that there is a lack of focus here?

Professor Palmer: I think that the power is with the researcher to choose his or her ---

Q111 Chairman: The individual researcher?

Professor Palmer: The individual researcher; the individual research groups; the individual subject areas within universities and within research centres to choose their areas of research. In the main, talking about the external funders, to approach them in a responsive mode to fund the areas of research that they particularly see from their perspective as being important.

Q112 Chairman: Is that not a little haphazard?

Professor Palmer: Yes, you could say that, but research in many ways and in many cases, certainly blue skies research, is haphazard.

Q113 Chairman: Warwick University, 40 years in existence, one of the most successful research universities certainly in the UK with an international reputation. How does your organisation benefit from drawing down on this international research expertise?

Professor Palmer: It benefits enormously. It benefits enormously from having access to international facilities, for example, which of course even the UK would not be able to provide on its own, so you look to CERN in Geneva and you look to Grenoble with the European facilities. We have collaborative partnerships with facilities in Japan. In the States, we have collaborative partnerships with American facilities. Of course, our people go there and their people come here and that exchange is ---

Q114 Chairman: What is the perceived benefit of your people going to the States or to Japan?

Professor Palmer: The benefit is of course a whole spectrum of benefits. It benefits the research programmes and the speed with which these research programmes can be taken forward, the speed with which the results can then be made available not only to other researchers but to users of the research, to industry and to business. It benefits our students because the academics come back with that international dimension, with that frontier exciting research and build that into their postgraduate programmes and their undergraduate programmes, allowing the PhD students and the undergraduates in years abroad to go and take part in these activities.

Q115 Chairman: Do CEH do the same? Do your scientists get opportunities to work on collaborative programmes internationally?

Professor Jenkins: Yes, very much so. Historically, we have been very much involved in water research in particular around the world, in developing countries in particular, but I should say more widely within NERC. Of course, the Oceanography programmes and the Antarctic and Polar programmes are all rooted in a way in a global collaborative effort and that is important if you are going to move the science forward appropriately at the appropriate global scale and in a timely fashion.

Q116 Chairman: You mentioned some Polar research but, in terms of your own area, in terms of water research, do you target particular countries, on what basis do you target them and how does, if you like, the system in Research Councils actually support you in that targeting process? The Research Council are your paymasters, are they not?

Professor Jenkins: Answering the last question first ---

Q117 Chairman: Partly.

Professor Jenkins: The Research Council provides approximately 50 per cent of our funding. The other 50 per cent we win from other sources, largely government departments and the EU. Yes, they are half of our paymaster. What I would say in answer to the first question as to whether we target areas, is, no, not generally. What tends to happen is that the science that we undertake is issue based or problem based and, if I can take the example of the difficulty of building and parameterising these huge global models of climate, it quickly became apparent that to understand what is happening at the land surface, the exchange between the land surface and the atmosphere, in different climatic regions, we had to have major field experiments. These were started in the Amazonian rain forest in the 1980s and 1990s, in the B(?) regions of Canada and now in Northern Scandinavia, and in the human subtropics in Africa, and so these huge ground level experiments are all brought together in a global scale. Once the issue is identified, there is a degree of targeting but it is targeted into the appropriate areas.

Q118 Chairman: It is about issue first and then you find the most appropriate international collaborations?

Professor Jenkins: I would argue that that is the case.

Q119 Chairman: Are you assisted in that by the Research Council? Does NERC help you in that process or is it very much left to yourself?

Professor Jenkins: We tend to be more funded in that process through the government departments historically. So, we have drawn upon funding schemes which have been run by DfID for example and by Defra for example, but we also have had Research Council funding for those activities.

Q120 Chairman: Professor Palmer, what are the main barriers for working across international boundaries? What are the main barriers to your successful international collaborations?

Professor Palmer: Barriers of course in terms of funding. I think that, on the positive side, there are ---

Q121 Chairman: We cannot just leave funding in the air.

Professor Palmer: No.

Q122 Chairman: Is that funding in the sense of different arrangements for grants?

Professor Palmer: Yes. The positive side as far as funding is concerned is that, from our perspective, there are some very good schemes that the Research Councils have to support international collaborations of the sort you have just described. The fellowship scheme, for example, does allow us not only to fund our own staff but to fund people from other countries. UK funding can be used to bring fellows across from other countries. We have visiting fellowship schemes as well. Travel money from the Research Councils is usually relatively easily won through responsive mode grant applications, and the travel money is reasonably generous. Networking schemes are well funded to set up networks of collaborations. All that is almost pump priming. Then you say, what about the big collaboration and that is where it becomes difficult. To set up the strategic partnership between engineering at Warwick and engineering in South Korea or in China really requires a significant investment of funds from both sides and that is one of the major barriers that we see. Yes, the networking is there, all the build-up is there, but then the real projects are difficult to find.

Q123 Chairman: Would you echo that, Professor Jenkins?

Professor Jenkins: Yes. May I add that I do not necessarily support the contention that it is only the size of the funding which is important. I believe that the real barrier to working across international boundaries is the longevity of the funding: long-term commitment to funding. Too much of our funding and too much of our support is and has in the past been on two or three year timescales. Spot an issue, define it in terms of a small project and go and do it, end of collaboration. That is really not the best way to take forward true international collaboration which I think would benefit from a longer term view.

Q124 Chairman: I thought that one of the benefits of having an institute was that a larger proportion of your funding is in fact core funding and that would enable you to have these longer term projects rather than the response mode funding.

Professor Jenkins: This is indeed correct, but a deal of our international funding comes from government departments and fall into the relatively short term. To me, to see that pulled together in a bigger framework, a coherent framework where everybody knew what was happening and ---

Q125 Chairman: So, are we back to this business about focus and more strategic planning?

Professor Jenkins: Yes. Each government department and each of the Research Councils have good schemes as has been pointed out already and there is nothing wrong with those schemes; they are really good examples. However, they tend to be rather short term. It also seems to me and to my organisation that there is little communication between those departments and Research Councils and there is certainly very little cooperation and there seems to be a distinct lack of collaboration. A two-way conversation about how things should proceed brought together in a framework with some real resources would seem to me to be of tremendous advantage in the international scene.

Chairman: I would like to leave that there and bring in Dr Harris.

Q126 Dr Harris: To foster more international collaboration, where do you think the balance should be between lots of other approaches being done by people on the ground or being done instead by Government and the Research Councils first? Clearly, both are important but where do you think more needs to be done in particular at the moment, or indeed the policy makers, Parliament?

Professor Jenkins: My take on that of course is that we as scientists like to be told what to do, unfortunately. On the other hand, there are policy issues and there are policy drivers that mean that research has to be done in certain areas. So, as you point out, there has to be a mix of bottom up and policy driven. My suggestion would be that there has to be more communication between those two. There has to be more links perhaps at all levels. Senior scientists in my organisation do not frequently and indeed very rarely have ministerial contact. When senior scientists from my organisation visit overseas countries/developing countries, it is not easy sometimes to get an appropriate diplomatic contact in that area and this seems to be peculiar to the UK because there are examples of other European countries where that is not the case. The scientists enjoy much closer liaison with their government bodies and with their overseas diplomats.

Professor Palmer: I think what we would see as very beneficial are firmer strategic links between research funders in the UK and research funders abroad. I know that these are developing. ESRC has now introduced a bilateral set of agreements with a few countries and are hoping to expand those bilateral agreements. If you can have that as the basis on which you can then build your research programmes, that would be very beneficial.

Q127 Dr Harris: So, the limiting factor is that sort of thing rather than the willingness of researchers in universities or institutes to seek collaboration.

Professor Palmer: There is no doubt that individual researchers/research groups are only too keen to seek collaborations but, if there is an umbrella mechanism that supports that, that would make it so much easier. If there is already embedded within the Research Council system a bilateral agreement between RCUK and Japan for example, that would facilitate and ESRC are setting that up but I think that it really should be something that is spread across the Research Councils.

Q128 Dr Harris: Professor Jenkins, in your evidence, you say that "... Research Councils, and government departments" need to have "the policies, strategies, structures and programmes in place to develop and benefit from international collaboration" and then you say. "This vision" presumably that package "is largely lacking from the UK government departments and the RCs [Research Councils]" which is not pulling your punches. Does that really matter? How important is that as a barrier to what we are seeking to achieve? Can you get round it?

Professor Jenkins: I believe that it is an important barrier because I believe that that lack of collaboration and coordination is the root cause of the short termism in the funding. If there were a more overarching framework approach, then a longer term view of this could be put into place. I am of course aware of the FCO's Global Science and Innovation Forum but I was only made aware of this rather recently. I would say that it is distinctly low profile as far as my organisation is concerned and in some ways is a good initiative in bringing together this framework which I allude to in the evidence but, as I see it at the moment, it describes a funding landscape that really does not incorporate appropriately the universities and the research institutes and take advantage of the long-term relationships/collaborations that we can offer.

Professor Palmer: May I echo that. The FCO initiative is so low profile that it is just not visible to academics and research supporters in universities.

Q129 Dr Harris: Below that, what specific things do you have in mind that you want to see the Government doing in respect of the policies, strategies, structures and programmes? Obviously, we do not have a huge amount of time but do you have any specifics, things you have seen abroad in other countries that could be done here and that should be being done here?

Professor Jenkins: This framework that we have already talked about needs to be defined and it needs to be supported with ring-fenced funding which is targeted into certain areas. I believe that there needs to be a close dialogue between Government and Research Councils/Research Centres and the profile that is given is more a mindset, a UK mindset. In our overseas activity, we do not approach things in the same way as our European counterparts, so there is a diplomatic side to the UK in a foreign country and then there are the researchers who come out and work with other researchers and we need to join this - we need 'joinedupedness' here!

Q130 Dr Harris: In terms of international research policies in countries like France and Germany, not the clinical maths side but in terms of actual research policies, are there specific things that they are doing which we are doing not as well which we could copy?

Professor Palmer: That is a difficult question.

Q131 Dr Harris: You mention in your evidence the "greater coordination between research organisations and government departments that is embedded in the French systems and evidenced by established mechanisms for exchange of research policymakers, managers and administrators between research organisations, other government ministries and overseas postings". So, there is a flow of people.

Professor Jenkins: There is definitely a closer relationship between senior scientists and up to ministerial level. How they have achieved that I am afraid I do not know. It is a system that would be of benefit in the UK; it is not easy to achieve.

Q132 Dr Harris: You also mention in your evidence and I quote, "Within the DTI, research capacity is not adequately prioritised as an asset to international trade, essential if the UK is to be seen as a country of innovation." If you stick to the DTI, the next question is about the FCO, but can you back that assertion up?

Professor Jenkins: An example does not spring immediately to mind. I am sure that we could provide written examples backing up that sufficiently.

Q133 Dr Harris: Finally, you mention in your evidence an interesting example that "the UK research community is mobilised to provide information whenever a UK minister makes a science related visit to an overseas country" which would involve a trawl of what research is going on and that there may be a few short-term actions with an exchange visit or a workshop and you say, "There is almost never funding for any collaborative research, leaving both sides with the impression that the objective of these events is media impact". That is very rarely said about government activity, surely! Can you comment further on that? Have you been a victim of this yourself in terms of being asked to do the work?

Professor Jenkins: It is not uncommon for this to happen. There are many times when we are invited to support ministerial visits with information related to global issues, environmental issues in particular, which we are very happy to do, but the feedback that we receive following the event from the researchers in the country involved is usually, "Well, where does that take us?" and I am afraid that the answer is often, "Nowhere".

Q134 Mr Newmark: There are a number of schemes providing support for international research activity through the Royal Society and British Council. Is this beneficial to the research community?

Professor Palmer: I think that it is enormously beneficial to have a portfolio of funders for research activities. The various funding streams from the Research Council, from the Leverhulme Trust and the British Council and so on in many cases are smaller schemes than you would see from the Research Councils, smaller schemes quite often quicker in response as well to requests for funding, but they are also in some cases targeted schemes, so they will be targeted to a particular research area or targeted to a particular country. So, you need the flexibility of the Research Council where funding can be sought for whatever initiative you want to seek but also the targeted schemes from the separate funders are very valuable and very valuable to complement not replace the Research Council schemes.

Q135 Mr Newmark: How effective is the coordination between the different bodies supporting international research activity and I ask that in the context of some evidence that I read from the Royal Academy of Engineering that said that, "although the Academy is aware of the existence of mechanisms to promote co-ordination and collaboration between Research Councils and the Government Departments involved in international science activities, current performance would suggest that these are not yet working effectively" and the Academy went on, "... 'there is a perception that there are too many players' operating in this area 'with the consequence that funding is fragmented and could be better spent ...'".

Professor Palmer: I think that first of all the Research Councils themselves operate different schemes. If you go to MRC, is their scheme for supporting this particular activity the same as with EPSRC or BBSRC and the answer is "no, it is not in many cases". We would certainly welcome a commonality of approach across the Research Councils to international activities. We do not have that commonality at the moment. To give you one example, we have referred already to ESRC's bilateral scheme, a very valuable scheme as it develops. However, to bid for that bilateral scheme, you bid in competition with the straightforward bids for responsive mode funding. EPSRC have decided that that might not be the best way and they started to put a little fund on one side that is dedicated for international projects: 4 million at the moment centrally and then that will be matched by an equivalent amount of money from the particular subject area within EPSRC. It is a small start but it is a little bit of ring-fenced money to support international activity. I think that we should spread both of those: we should spread the bilateral scheme across the Research Councils, we should spread the little pots of money and bigger pots of money dedicated to this scheme, but I think that there should be a commonality of approach rather than different approaches in the different Councils.

Q136 Mr Newmark: The bottom line is that, at the moment, coordination could be better.

Professor Palmer: Yes, indeed.

Q137 Chairman: Just before we leave that, one of the main purposes of that question was not just funding between coordination within the Research Councils but between the different funding bodies.

Professor Palmer: My response to that is that we do not see any coordination.

Q138 Chairman: Thank you. We will leave that on the record.

Professor Jenkins: I feel that I should put in one rider to that. Within NERC, I would point to the new programme called the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation which is a joint initiative of NERC, ESRC and DfID. There is of the order of 10 million to be targeted for regions of the world to address for environmental issues and this is an excellent example of government working together with Research Councils but it is one of the few examples.

Professor Palmer: May I pick up a good point out of that scheme as well. It does allow you to fund the activity of your collaborators in other countries which might be in third world countries to fund them at 100 per cent full economic costing. It is enormously valuable to get those partners on board.

Q139 Mr Newmark: How much interaction with the FCO science and innovation network have you had and how effective do you think this network is?

Professor Palmer: I think I mentioned earlier this morning that, until yesterday or the day before yesterday, it was not something that I was aware of.

Professor Jenkins: I am afraid that this is something that came to my notice only a couple of weeks ago and I must say that my initial response to the papers that I have now read on this is that it sadly, for me in my organisation, as it stands, focuses very much on technological innovation, wealth creation, and it needs to be complemented with another approach which targets quality of life type issues. So, it is on one side of the research spectrums.

Q140 Mr Newmark: Professor Jenkins, what would you like to see in a framework for international research activity and how would such a framework improve the current situation?

Professor Jenkins: The framework ought to at least encompass all activity that we have. There ought to be an awareness first of all. Anybody involved in the international research sphere needs to be aware of what is going on, so communication is very important. Communication could clearly be improved because there are many schemes/major schemes which we do not know about. That is partly our problem but it is also a problem of the other side. There needs to be a forum whereby those funding agencies, those government departments and research councils come together. That needs to be formalised to enable that to happen or force that to happen. I also reiterate the fact that, to be successful, it needs to be a real collaboration and it must not be either top down or bottom up. There needs to be a dialogue and there needs to be a dialogue at the appropriate level which may be at the level of senior scientists and ministers or it may be at the level of senior researchers and senior civil servants, I do not know. To me, the mainstays are those three things: communication, coordination and collaboration and the framework has to pull that together.

Q141 Chairman: Before we leave the FCO, are you aware of the Research Councils setting up offices in Shanghai and Mumbai and Mumbai and Washington and do you have any contact with those?

Professor Palmer: The Research Councils, as I understand it, are setting up first of all an office in I thought Beijing but it may be Shanghai.

Q142 Chairman: It is Beijing.

Professor Palmer: That will open in September. The methodology is that it will be RCUK but one Research Council will manage it. Then Washington will follow that and EPSRC will manage Washington. Then there will be an Indian office.

Q143 Chairman: Do you think that is a good model?

Professor Palmer: What I hope will happen is that it will be modelled on the UKRO office in Brussels which is the Research Council office to provide the interface between the researcher and the European Union, which we see as a very, very beneficial activity, a very beneficial office, and we hope that the offices, as they open in other key places, will play a similar positive role. We see it as exciting and interesting.

Q144 Chairman: In terms of paying for that, do you think that subscription base with organisations paying a subscription to access those offices is the right way forward?

Professor Palmer: I would not object to that method if we are getting value for money, yes.

Q145 Chairman: That forces them to give value for money.

Professor Palmer: Yes.

Q146 Chris Mole: Turning to the Research Council strategies for international research activity, if I can play the devil's advocate for a moment, why should Research Councils have a role in promoting international collaboration and mobility and all? It could be argued that their function should just be to focus on support for excellent science and, if that requires international collaboration, so be it.

Professor Palmer: I do not see how you can separate the two. Yes, their role should be to fund excellent science, to fund excellent science that is focused in the UK, but to pursue that excellent science requires international collaboration and that international collaboration should be at least part-funded by ourselves in partnership with our colleagues overseas.

Professor Jenkins: I entirely agree. The fact that Research Councils are trying to fund excellent science, we need the best scientists to do excellent science and the best scientists are not always UK scientists.

Q147 Chris Mole: Let us look at the priority that that should have within what the Research Councils do. You said that the RCs do not give a high priority to international activity. Where should it be in the scale of activities?

Professor Palmer: A good question again! I think that they do in certain areas give high priority to international science. They do, for example, fund international facilities: international facilities here in the UK and international facilities abroad, and they fund that with a top slicing of their budget but a top slicing of their budget must immediately indicate that they give it a very high priority. What they do not do beyond that is then set aside specific funding streams for international collaboration and, without those specific funding streams, international collaboration is and has been very difficult. I will give you one example, an example of some ten years ago but, as I understand it, it is an example that is still alive today. The University of Warwick was in discussion with Quest - Quest is one of the senior research laboratories in South Korea. It was a collaboration that was being initiated in the area of semi-conductors, advance semi-conductors and therefore Samsung were very much involved as well from South Korea. The proposal was that we should forge this relationship and the initial project was a 4 million project. At that time, EPSRC had a memorandum of understanding with South Korea to promote collaboration between EPSRC and its activities and Quest in South Korea. Immediately, almost at a stroke, the South Koreans produced their 2 million. We went through 12 months of negotiation with EPSRC in competition with responsive mode grant applications rewriting proposals and, in the end, it was rejected. The effect on that particular collaboration was significant but I went back to South Korea and to Quest the institute there about three years ago and they still remembered it and they still remembered the frustrations of trying to collaborate with the UK and with a particular research team in the UK. So, we do need structures and we do need mechanisms which prevent that.

Q148 Chris Mole: Thank you. That is a good example. What more would both of you like the RCs to do in terms of promoting international research activity? Where does that sit in relation to the role of individual institutions in this area?

Professor Jenkins: I do not think it is necessarily the case that the Research Councils need to prioritise international research more. What they have to do is accept that funding international research is a necessity to advance science in some areas. So, the fact that one needs to bring in a team of international collaborators should not be a barrier to doing that research. The mechanism ought to be there for the funding to go to those international collaborators as appropriate. At the moment, what tends to happen is that if we can solve the problem by using somebody within the UK who are perhaps not as good as Brazilian counterparts, then it is mechanistically easier to do it within the UK but we do not have the best expertise on the job. It is not a question of prioritisation, it is a question of accepting that, when it is necessary, international collaboration needs to be taken on board and funded appropriately.

Q149 Chris Mole: What benefit would you say the researchers in your institutions gain specifically from RC support mechanisms for international activity and how do they compare with other organisations such as the British Council or the Royal Society?

Professor Palmer: I think that our academics have gained very significantly from collaborating with colleagues around the world in international facilities. We talked about CERN, we talked about Grenoble and we talked about Japan. In those laboratories, you have researchers from around the world who all come together to work together on similar problems. We have gained significantly from that through, for example, the training of our PhD students because the PhD students will go out there with the academics and join them and will research in an international environment which surely is good for them in the next stage of their career. It has also been beneficial because it has made us more competitive in attracting high calibre staff to come and join us in Warwick and other universities. Our recruitment now is international; we recruit internationally for our staff at the university and that is because we can provide that opportunity and we have met them already abroad in these collaborations and they realise that the University of Warwick might only be 40 years old but it is a good place to work or, more importantly, the infrastructure now in our university laboratories is much, much better than it used to be 20 years ago because of the investment that has gone into science and technology. A downside of that is that our PhD students after PHD do not look to go abroad in the main for their post-doc experience, they often get it in the UK because of the facilities that we now have in our laboratories. Our laboratories are state of the art worldwide, so why go to the US or to Japan?

Q150 Chris Mole: Professor Jenkins, are you not so sure about that?

Professor Jenkins: I can see that. No, I am not so sure about it. Maybe Warwick has much better facilities than we do in CEH.

Q151 Chris Mole: While I have the floor, I would like to ask you both a question about barriers to international collaboration which the Chairman touched on earlier on. What difficulties are there in aligning datasets in a whole range of areas of science? It is something that we picked up on recently in discussion with some American scientists about international collaboration difficulties, particularly in environmental science and aligning datasets. Is that something anyone could give leadership to globally in order to ensure that the research work proceeds smoothly without having to spend long periods of time doing that alignment work?

Professor Jenkins: Absolutely. There are huge difficulties in pulling together appropriate data in a consistent manner to approach the kinds of problems of global climate and global climate modelling in particular. To a certain extent, the UK is at the front of that because the UK has been instrumental in the development of those computer models through the Hadley Centre largely, but it is also something that is very much at the heart of EU thinking at the moment, the coordination of information and datasets through their Inspire Initiative, and this is relatively new but certainly the issue of international data is something which demands international collaboration. It has never been the case that one could phone somebody in another country and demand their national datasets. That is not a good way to work. It does not foster collaboration, it does not foster good science and it is often seen as antagonistic. The way to do it is to ask if people would like to come and bring their data and analyse their data and work on it in conjunction with others.

Q152 Chris Mole: Should the RCs be encouraging some global bodies to set standards?

Professor Jenkins: Yes and I think that, to be fair, the Research Councils are aware and signed up to the new initiatives in this area, so I would not criticise them for that.

Q153 Chairman: When you saw "new initiatives", are you aware of any initiative to do this?

Professor Jenkins: The Inspire Initiative is relatively new.

Q154 Chairman: Who is actually leading on the Inspire Initiative?

Professor Jenkins: It is an EU initiative.

Q155 Chairman: It is no doubt from the European Research Council.

Professor Jenkins: No, it is not, it is from DG Environment, I guess.

Q156 Dr Harris: May I follow up on the point about researchers choosing to stay in the UK rather than go abroad. My understanding is that they are encouraged to go abroad because it is important for their career or is seen to be important to put it on their CV that they have spent some time abroad whether they like it or not, whether they find it convenient or not, whether it is appropriate for women who may have family commitments in this country or not. Is that not a problem in Warwick? Is Warwick different from every other research projectory?

Professor Palmer: I have not heard of that pressure on the researcher to go abroad and prosper. I think that researchers can prosper just as well if they stay in the UK and they perhaps move from lab to lab in the UK to get experience. Of course, a period abroad is and should be beneficial, but I have never given that instruction to one of my PhD students and I have never given that as an instruction to academic staff with whom I have worked and collaborated.

Q157 Dr Harris: My understanding is that, when you have two candidates who are otherwise equal but one of whom had spent time abroad, that was considered to be an advantage for all sorts of understandable reasons, that they had exposed themselves to alternative approaches.

Professor Palmer: Yes.

Q158 Dr Harris: What you are saying is that it is not a requirement, it is an advantage.

Professor Palmer: It is an advantage, yes.

Q159 Dr Harris: You have covered some of the matters to do with Research Councils but I want to probe a little further about what they are doing. Research Fortnight publicised a previous evidence session where criticisms were made similar to criticisms you make in your evidence of the Research Council strategy or lack of strategy and lack of mechanisms and the Chair of Research Council UK suggested, "that view suggests to me that they" in this case the Royal Society "had not read the international strategy of RCUK or that of the Research Councils". Have you read the international strategy?

Professor Palmer: I have them in my bag! Yes, I have

Q160 Chairman: Had you read them before you were invited as a witness?

Professor Palmer: No, not at all. You are quite right!

Q161 Dr Harris: Do you think that it is your job and the job of everyone seeking to have international collaborations to read the strategy or are you entitled to criticise the lack of strategy or perceived lack of strategy without having read the strategy?

Professor Palmer: I think that you have to read the strategy before you criticise but I think that, in some cases, the international strategy is not easy to seek out on the web and, even if you know that you are hunting for it, it is sometimes rather difficult to find, and the international strategies and the content vary quite significantly from Research Council to Research Council. ESRC1 is very good. Not only does it describe the strategies, it also is very helpful to the academic about how to approach the Research Council to receive international funding or to make approaches for international funding. Other of the documents are motherhood and apple pie, what you would expect them to say without much substance to it.

Q162 Chairman: Which in particular would you describe as motherhood and apple pie?

Professor Palmer: It is unfortunate to pick on the AHRC because it is so new but everything in the AHRC strategy is what "we propose to do in the future all being well" without anything that is actually happening at the moment, and I think that the AHRC needs to work hard on its international strategy and I hear this from my colleagues in the arts and social studies faculty.

Q163 Dr Harris: You have mentioned the need to search hard to find out about the schemes. Do either of you have any experience about how easy or not it is to apply for grants in these areas?

Professor Palmer: I think that is again another problem that our colleagues raise. It is the bureaucracy, if that is the right way of describing it, associated with the application process for small grants. Even small grants through the Research Councils associated with international collaboration suffer first of all from the problem of perhaps double jeopardy if the funder in the other country is involved as well, but it also takes a significant amount of time. For example, the small grant scheme that the EPSRC mathematics panel run takes at least 16 weeks to give you a decision on a relatively small amount of money and that is a long period of time especially if you get a "no" at the end.

Q164 Dr Harris: The University of Sheffield told us that "... the UK is perceived as an attractive place for study by foreign researchers, and it could be assumed that this is due in large part to the work of the RCUK", but they go on to say, "however, the work of the Royal Society, other Learned Societies and the Welcome and Leverhulme Trusts is much more well known in facilitating international research" and that "RCUK would do well to emulate the approaches taken by the charities in promoting international mobility". That is your own university. Do you share their view?

Professor Palmer: I think in one particular instance certainly. The other funders that you mention do allow in an international collaboration the funding to be used to support the activity abroad as well as the activity at home where that is possible, so you can move their money out of the country if you need to in order to facilitate the collaboration. As I understand it, that is not possible with the Research Councils.

Q165 Dr Harris: Have either of you heard of the Money moves with researchers' scheme?

Professor Palmer: No.

Professor Jenkins: No.

Q166 Dr Harris: That was a scheme set up last year. Again, it is awareness. Finally from me, coming back to the question I asked about your own researchers, if we were to encourage researchers to have international collaborations, do you think that it is reasonable that the research funders should recognise that individuals are not always single bodies and that, if someone needs to go abroad with funding to work, it might be a wise idea to set up a scheme where their partner might have funding as well or do you think that the money should be better spent on creating more opportunities for individuals?

Professor Palmer: It is a very difficult question and it is a question that we wrestle with now across the whole spectrum of our activities in universities. Since we recruit worldwide, it is often a two-body problem when we are recruiting worldwide in that, if we recruit somebody from the States or from the Far East or from Europe, they will come with a partner and how do you deal with that problem? I do not see that it is an issue for the Research Councils as such to stretch their funding to a second person when the quality judgment has been made on one person.

Q167 Dr Harris: It is for the host institution.

Professor Palmer: Yes.

Q168 Dr Harris: I have one more point. CEH said that NERC does not provide funding to support long-term strategic research collaboration. Do you want to say something, if it has not been covered already, about follow-on funding and the need to be able to have that?

Professor Jenkins: Only to reiterate the point that short-term project based funding two to three years focused on a specific project achieves good outputs, delivers good science but it does not promote the kind of collaboration that might make real steps forward. So, it is a bit like what was referred to earlier, the issue of the ministerial visit and the people in the country left saying, "Well, what was that all about?" It is a little bit the same with short-term two or three year research contracts. They are good while they last but they are quickly forgotten and that is a missed opportunity in my opinion.

Q169 Dr Iddon: We want to finish this session by asking you a few questions about gaining funding from abroad, the main source of course of which is the framework programme in the European Union. I think it was Professor K(?) who was complimentary about the UKRO in Brussels a while ago. Do you think that research councils can do any more to help British researchers gain funding from the framework programmes, Framework Programme 7 as it is now coming?

Professor Jenkins: First of all, I would draw attention to the NERC and the funding initiative that they have established under Framework Programme 6 which is a fund to aid coordination for applications to the framework programme, glue money, if you like, to enable researchers to come together across Europe to enable our participation in that because the mechanism of putting together these big integrated projects now which can be 10 to 20 million euros over two or three years takes a lot of coordination. That is a good practice. That could be more widely taken up. I feel that within NERC the understanding is there that they need to help us in trying to be involved in framework programmes. I wanted to answer the first question about the UKRO and comment on that, just to say that, yes, they do a good job but I would argue that they could do a lot more. To me, the UKRO is extremely efficient at gaining information, gleaning information, putting it together and distributing to its subscribers. I would like to see them be much more proactive and putting us in contact with senior Commission officials because that is not easy at the moment for us. So, to get real influence into the programmes and the shape of the programmes, I believe that the UK does not have the same access to some of the senior Commission officials as other countries do.

Q170 Dr Iddon: May I stay with you for a moment, Professor Jenkins. You have been rather critical saying that NERC does not engage well with the European Commission and you have made comment at the lack of political clout in Europe. Are you standing by those comments?

Professor Jenkins: Yes, political clout. We appear to lack the influence that other countries have in defining and shaping some of the activities of the programme.

Q171 Dr Iddon: Whose fault is that?

Professor Jenkins: On the one hand, one could argue that it is fault of the Research Council who pay the subscription to UKRO but we are part of the Research Council, so it could be my problem in demanding the service that I have just mentioned, a proactive service. I wonder again at a diplomatic level, senior levels, whether the UK has the same approach and the same mindset as other European countries. The Italian equivalent of the UKRO office in Brussels is headed by somebody with diplomatic status. So, it is a slightly different approach.

Q172 Dr Iddon: We need somebody who knows their way around the political system obviously in Brussels. Professor Palmer, would you like to elaborate a little more on what you said about UKRO and whether it could be doing more through the Research Council to gain this framework funding.

Professor Palmer: First of all, the Research Councils are very supportive of academics in terms of allowing them to apply, for example, for travel money to travel around Europe to develop their network in preparation for the grant application. They do provide information seminars around the country to provide the information backed up by the UKRO office with those seminar presentations. I say all of that except AHRC. As far as I understand it, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has not yet offered any information seminars and they do not have a travel fund, despite the fact that now FP7, the seventh framework programme, is available for arts and humanities grant applications. So, I think that we do need to do work there. Having said that the money is available and there is travel support and so on, I still think that we need to reduce the bureaucracy and the time and the effort involved to access that funding. In our region in the West Midlands, our RDA, Advantage West Midlands, has a scheme which is quicker and faster than the Research Council scheme and it is not very often we can say that about an RDA, but they really have been very responsive and money is available to stimulate the development of those collaborations.

Q173 Dr Iddon: We are all picking up comments to the effect that the imposition of the track methodology and out of that full economic costing is now beginning to put people off applying for framework programme money. Is that your experience?

Professor Palmer: We are definitely not discouraging our staff. In fact, we continue to encourage our staff to apply for framework money. We see that the university research portfolio needs a spectrum of funders. Yes, we lose money on the European programmes but that provides funding for research that then will lead to other sources of funding which hopefully will generate a profit to balance the loss elsewhere. So, no, we still encourage our staff to apply for Framework Programme 7.

Q174 Chairman: But it is a problem?

Professor Palmer: It is a problem. We lose money on every European grant we receive, significant amounts of money.

Q175 Dr Iddon: Finally, a question to both of you. Framework programmes apart, can either of you give examples of where your organisations have gained money from other international sources, perhaps the National Institute of Health in America for example or any other organisations. Are there any other pots of money that you can tap into?

Professor Palmer: We have had some success recently with American charitable bodies where we have had money from the Mellon Foundation for example, in collaboration with American partners. One of the strategic objectives of the university is to develop our American partnerships not only so that we can collaborate with funding from American charitable sources but also from the health funding in the States. We have some money from defence funding in the States as well. That has been enormously valuable to us.

Q176 Dr Iddon: Professor Jenkins, do you know of any examples?

Professor Jenkins: We have in the past had funding from the ADB, the Asian Development Bank, for some of our work in India. At this moment, we are unable to accept funding from the US, in particular the World Bank, due to issues to do with unlimited liability clauses in the contracts.

Q177 Chairman: Would you let us have a note on that, please, because we have not heard about that and we would like to have a brief note about it.

Professor Jenkins: Sure.

Chairman: Professor Palmer and Professor Jenkins, thank you very much indeed. I am sorry that we have slightly overrun on your session but we did want to cover our programme. Thank you very much indeed.


Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Dr Lloyd Anderson, Director, Science, the British Council, Professor Lorna Casselton, FRS, Foreign Secretary and Vice-President, and Dr Bernie Jones, Head of International Policy, the Royal Society, gave evidence.

Q178 Chairman: Welcome to our second panel this morning and, first of all, my sincere apologies for over-running on the last session. I hope you found some of those answers interesting because we want to pick up on them and see how much you have listened and taken in. We welcome Professor Lorna Casselton, Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society and also a Fellow; Dr Bernie Jones, Head of International Policy, the Royal Society and Dr Lloyd Anderson, the Director of Science at the British Council. Welcome to you all. Can I start with you, Professor Casselton, and ask how important is international research activity to the Royal Society?

Professor Casselton: Since I am nominally in charge of our international activities I would say they are very important. We are very keen to support the very best scientists in the UK but we are also committed to ensuring that they can engage with the very best science internationally.

Q179 Chairman: The Research Councils say that the UK is very good at doing it - that is their quote, that we are very good at it. Is that your view, are we very good at it?

Professor Casselton: We are very good at it but we are concerned that we are losing our position. Other countries such as France and Germany are investing considerably in collaborations with overseas scientists, particularly in countries with developing economies such as China and India which we are very interested in. They are very competitive so we need to be equally competitive in ensuring that we can fund the best collaboration between international partners.

Q180 Chairman: Dr Anderson, is it just a question of funding then? Do you accept this premise that the Research Councils put forward that we are very good at international collaboration, it is just a matter of funding and if we put more money into it we will be absolutely brilliant?

Dr Anderson: No, I do not think that is right. I would just say for the British Council our purpose is to build long term relationships and trust for the UK, so we see science as an important tool in being able to build those relationships alongside the arts or English or education. We are coming at it slightly differently than the Research Councils because, in a sense, the Research Councils are saying what can international relations do for the UK research base, whereas I would say the philosophy behind the British Council is what can the UK research base do for international relations, it is the other way round. You can always chuck more money at the problem and we hear Lord Sainsbury talking about five per cent of the world's science being done in the UK, therefore 95 per cent is not, we need to access that 95 per cent and, clearly, the more money that is there for international collaboration the better. There are all sorts of issues which we may unpick about the international perspective of UK researchers and their willingness to get involved in the international scene.

Q181 Chairman: What about you, Dr Jones. We are very good at it.

Dr Jones: We are reasonably good at it - historically we have been very good at it. I would say that UK scientists themselves, research practitioners, are very good at going out and making those contacts where they can but what we are not is good at is presenting a united UK front when we go overseas and then being able to fund the follow-up large projects which come after the relationships have been forged by the researchers themselves.

Q182 Chairman: We heard from the previous panel about this perceived lack of co-ordination; do you know if there is a lack of co-ordination between the different organisations involved in international science collaboration?

Dr Jones: Yes, almost certainly there is; that is why Sir David King set up GSIF (Global Science and Innovation Forum) in the first place, years ago, and that has been working to better co-ordinate the various UK stakeholders who are involved in this. It has done reasonably well so far, but it could still do better and particularly it could do better when we are actually sitting around a table overseas with the Indian or Chinese ministries of science.

Q183 Dr Harris: Could I just ask on that, the Royal Society is a member of GSIF and you heard the members of the previous panel say that they had barely heard of it and it hardly impacted on them. I notice that the higher education institutions are not represented in any way through Universities UK or the Department for Education on GSIF; I presume it is a problem therefore.

Dr Jones: Hearing the evidence of the previous panel clearly there is a problem, but whether that is a problem of them being represented on the Global Science and Innovation Forum or whether it is a communications problem in that all of us as members of GSIF have not adequately communicated what that panel is doing.

Q184 Chairman: There seems to be little point in having the Research Councils on GSIF if in fact their members, the people who actually take the grant funding, do not know what is happening. is that a fair analysis?

Dr Jones: I would say that is half of it, there should be better communication, but even without being able to communicate it out to the wider UK science community there is still great value in all the principal players who are on GSIF all co-ordinating their activities and pulling in the same direction.

Q185 Chairman: And effectively communicating.

Dr Jones: Firstly between themselves but then communicating it to the wider community.

Q186 Chairman: Professor Casselton, what are the main barriers to international research activity?

Professor Casselton: I hate to say funding, but it is long-term funding. As many people have said to you this morning there are funds, particularly from the Research Councils and even from the Royal Society for short-term inter-actions to establish collaborations, but science is international and it has also been pointed out this morning that if we are to do cutting edge research, which we hope is going to be used to address many of the real global problems that we are facing at the present - climate change, disease, health problems, water problems and suchlike - we need the cutting edge research of all the countries involved, so we need long term funding. It is all right to set up the collaboration by visits, but what we need to be able to do is to say yes we can put money on the table to now establish a long term collaboration.

Q187 Chairman: So this is a role for Government.

Professor Casselton: We feel that the Research Councils should be able to have money that is dedicated for international collaboration; the money is still funding UK researchers but it is ensuring that they can then make contact with overseas groups who will equally have dedicated funds to do that collaborative research.

Q188 Chairman: If we could just come back to GSIF for a second, what are the main mechanisms or methods which the Global Science and Innovation Forum uses to enhance international collaboration?

Professor Casselton: I am not so familiar with GSIF and I am going to kick this to Bernie.

Dr Jones: I would say there are a couple of mechanisms. One is that GSIF and the members of the various project teams that sit beneath GSIF over the last couple of years have been working on the international strategy which was launched last year which sets out a modest roadmap for various UK international science stakeholders. So the strategy is one thing and active co-ordination of all of our activities is the second one and to my mind, purely personally, is actually the main value. If we can ensure that whenever, for example, there is a ministerial visit we do not just agree things but that all the principal stakeholders are there as well to provide a single united front for UK science, that will make a far greater impact and portray the UK science brand far better internationally.

Q189 Chairman: Did you feel depressed hearing our previous panel talk about ministerial visits, preparing stuff for them and then nothing happened as a result? Have you had that experience?

Dr Jones: I slightly recognised where they were coming from. We are in a privileged position because we do not sit too far away from Whitehall so our communication with the FCO, the OSI and with the Research Councils is relatively good, although even then there are things that we do not hear about. I can imagine how much more difficult it is to be sitting in a lab or sitting in a university where the channels of communication are even longer.

Q190 Chairman: Dr Anderson, what benefits do you think we have had from the Year of Science scheme?

Dr Anderson: Would you mind if I just went back a bit? I somewhat disagree with the Royal Society about co-ordination because on the ground co-ordination works quite well; the Foreign Office and the British Council in wherever, Beijing or Thailand, are working well together and in fact it is a mutually beneficial relationship, each side can build on the work of the others and I would say that the Council adds value to the work of the Foreign Office and vice versa. Sometimes it looks different here in London because you see this plethora of funding bodies and people involved and therefore there is a worry that somehow it is a mess, it is not co-ordinated, but in some ways I feel we should celebrate the diversity of the sources of funding that are available and recognise that where delivery is taking place on the ground there is a joined-up approach. The co-ordination activities here in London that are most useful are about information sharing and I suspect that that is what we were hearing in the last session, simply that the information was not getting through about what other people were doing and if there were better channels for information sharing then people would feel it was more joined-up and more co-ordinated even if there was a plethora of sources. Also on the point about feedback, I have heard that the other way too, that we bring over visitors to the UK and they go and have talks with the DTI or the British Association, then they go back to their country and the people here never hear another word about it.. There is, therefore, a problem with our feedback and there should be proper reporting-back to the people who prepared briefs in the first place.

Q191 Chairman: Let me bring you back to the Year of Science; was that not a good focus for international collaborations?

Dr Anderson: You mean the Year of Science in China?

Q192 Chairman: Yes.

Dr Anderson: These big awareness-raising campaigns are good; because it allows you to have a large impact you can raise the general level of interest and the level of engagement. The problem with these big campaigns is that they are not necessarily sustainable and we have seen this in the past - not specifically in science but I am thinking back to the big campaign that was run in Australia called New Images which was about reconnecting Australia with the UK. It was a fantastic year, lots and lots of activities, great media interest, great enthusiasm, but it was not really followed through and so you just saw the thing die away again in successive years. The same happened in Canada, there was a general public diplomacy engagement, so whilst the Year of Science has been successful in China I am concerned about whether there is a long term commitment to keeping up those engagements.

Q193 Chairman: Would you prefer to have a longer term commitment with fewer countries rather than, for instance, having a year in China and next year in Japan or Korea?

Dr Anderson: The Years of Science have tended to be in the countries that we see as the next big players - the emerging economies - where they have suddenly started to increase their investment in research and development and so they are fairly targeted as to where those Years of Science are to be placed. I suppose I am coming at it from the point of view of long term relationships and a worry about short termism in having big campaigns.

Q194 Chairman: Professor Casselton, do you share those concerns?

Professor Casselton: I come from a slightly different angle in that we as the Royal Society would really like to see the Research Councils have a more aggressive policy towards funding international research, we would like to see them committing a small percentage of their funding. They have about 3 billion and just a few per cent of that budget being dedicated to overseas collaboration would make a big difference.

Q195 Chairman: Do think this focus on picking a country like China and having a major focus there and then moving on to somewhere else is the right approach, and if so which other countries would you want to see as having that focus?

Professor Casselton: That is hard for me to answer because the Royal Society has various policies towards different countries, but over the past two days we have had meetings with the Chinese in the Royal Society, we have had a meeting of the European intranet called (?) and it is very obvious that there is a tremendous amount of exciting research going on in countries like China and there is UK engagement, but we would like to see the availability of more funds to develop that.

Dr Jones: It is actually a combination of all the points that have been made. The Years of Science are tremendously successful and they are very good opportunities to really try and sell the UK brand in these priority countries which, for one or two countries, some of the various stakeholders in the UK might disagree on, but for most of them we are agreed on 80 per cent of what our priorities are. Lloyd is right and wrong to say they lack follow-up; the FCO and the British Council in country are always very keen to follow up those years; they put in a tremendous amount of work to bring about some of these things, to raise the profile of UK science there and they continue doing it, and indeed the team in China is continuing to do that this year. Where he is right is on the point that there is no greater follow-up, and this is the point that Lorna was making: having spent a whole year promoting UK science in the country, forging literally thousands of connections between UK research practitioners and those in country, we then have no central UK funds to actually support real research projects between them.

Dr Anderson: There are two things here: one is about the commitment of the Research Councils to relationship development rather than the reactive individual project funding, and the Years of Science do not necessarily lead to more relationship development on the part of the Research Councils. The other thing is that it is a geographical focus therefore and one could take a thematic focus, and I would mention climate change in this context because maybe the UK wants to raise the game in climate change and it wants to do that across the globe. The problem with the geographical approach is that you chuck everything into it, all areas of science, and say we are going to target this country and then we are going to move on to that country. I would have thought that strategically for the UK it was important that certain issues or certain themes were exploited globally.

Q196 Dr Iddon: Anyone listening to this conversation from outside who did not know enough about your organisations might say it is all a bit of a mess really - and I am deliberately saying that to provoke you, obviously. I ask, therefore, why do the Research Councils promote international activity when we have got the British Council, we have got the Royal Society to do it. Lloyd, you said we celebrate that diversity so you presumably agree with all this complexity, but why can we not have something simpler?

Professor Casselton: They have the money.

Q197 Dr Iddon: You have the money.

Professor Casselton: No, they have got the money, the Research Councils have the money, we have not. We have a small budget compared with the Research Councils and we devote something like 15 to 20 per cent of it to international activity.

Q198 Dr Iddon: If the Research Councils have got the bulk of the money why should they not be left to get on with it.

Professor Casselton: You mean in terms of international?

Q199 Dr Iddon: In terms of promoting international activity.

Professor Casselton: Because we say we feel they should be devoting more of their funds to ensure that UK groups and overseas groups can work together.

Dr Anderson: I would say that the British Council and the Research Councils are working to different outcomes. The outcomes of international promotion of science to us are about global security, a more peaceful world, a more prosperous world as well, but we see science as a culturally neutral area in which to cross what can be quite large cultural divides. Because of the common language of science and because it is fact-based and people can work together it allows us to cross very large cultural divides and enable relationships to be built. Those are the outcomes we seek and the outcomes that the Research Councils seek are really quite different, they are about the excellence and strength of the UK research base and about economic returns to the UK. I do not think it is a mess, we are trying to achieve different things; we happen to be in the same area of work.

Q200 Dr Iddon: I say to the Royal Society that the British Council has a clear difference, which you have just heard, but I have not heard yet a clear difference from yourselves. How would you differentiate the work that you do internationally from that which the Research Councils do internationally?

Dr Jones: Some of our broad aims are the same as the Research Councils; we believe in supporting excellence in UK science, excellent UK scientists and promoting that science internationally; it is just that we might be doing it a bit more aggressively than the Research Councils are able to at the moment and we have a wider remit in subject terms than individual Councils themselves have. We are firm believers that science should be international and that we should do everything possible to facilitate both international collaboration and contact and also real international research. It is on that final point that we believe the Research Councils could do a lot more.

Q201 Dr Iddon: We are picking up vibrations around this Committee that the co-ordination is not as good as it should be, although we have seen some evidence to the contrary this morning. How can you, therefore, in the Royal Society be sure that you are not duplicating the efforts of the Research Councils or even occasionally the British Council?

Dr Jones: It is something that we are very conscious of and we have frequent meetings with all of the Research Councils and with the British Council and other UK stakeholders - other charities, other learned societies - and we do regularly evaluate and review our programmes to make sure that there is as little overlap as possible, or if there is some overlap that we are working together.

Q202 Dr Iddon: Could you tell us how often you meet with the Research Councils and at what level, is it with RCUK or the individual Research Councils. How often do those discussions take place in a year, for example?

Dr Jones: I could not tell you the number of all the interactions we have with the Research Councils.

Q203 Dr Iddon: Is that because they are not formalised in any way?

Dr Jones: Some of them are formalised and some of them are not but they happen at all sorts of different levels - our chief executive, our president and our vice-president very frequently meet with their counterparts at the Research Councils and indeed many of our vice-presidents and Fellows are on the boards, or are chief executives or chairs of the Research Councils, so there is a very close relationship with them. Our chief executive very frequently meets with the chief executives of the various Research Councils, we meet with them at GSIF, I meet my counterparts who run the international offices at the Research Councils very often at GSIF called official group meetings and their regular Research Council international network meetings, and my colleagues who run our grants programme in the Royal Society frequently speak to their counterparts who hand out funding at the Research Councils. There are many meetings, some of them are to regular timetables and some of them are more ad hoc.

Q204 Dr Iddon: When you say ad hoc, from what you are saying there is no formality about them.

Dr Jones: No, that is not true; some of them are quite formal, for example the ones which happen under the aegis of GSIF.

Q205 Chairman: You did mention other learned societies. Some of them, like the Royal Academy of Engineering, have recently launched major international initiatives; what relationship do you have with those, in the same tenor of Brian's question?

Dr Jones: Again, we have frequent contact and many fellows in common between a lot of these organisations, but in view of the fact that the Royal Academy of Engineering in particular has recently launched a lot of international initiatives I am intending to set up a regular meeting between the international heads of the various academies in the UK.

Q206 Chairman: At the moment, in specific answer to Brian's question, the Royal Academy of Engineering could be having an international project in country A and you could also be having a project in country A without co-ordinating your activities; is that true?

Dr Jones: No, it is not true because there have been meetings between our funding organisations, but you are right that there is nothing formal in place. We do intend to change that.

Q207 Dr Iddon: Where does your funding come from in the Royal Society, is it all from the Office of Science and Innovation to promote international collaboration?

Dr Jones: It comes from three different sources: it comes from the Parliamentary grant in aid from OSI - most of that is money that we receive from OSI and we then give out to excellent UK scientists in order to support international collaboration - the second source is from private foundations, private individuals or corporate organisations who give us money for specific purposes and the third source is from our endowment which we have built up over the years.

Q208 Dr Iddon: What are the proportions; which is the biggest chunk of funding in those three streams?

Dr Jones: The biggest chunk is the Parliamentary grant in aid, the money that we receive from OSI and then hand out to fund excellent UK scientists and international scientific collaboration.

Q209 Dr Iddon: What I am really trying to get at is because the Research Councils have so much international activity themselves, why should they bother to give the Royal Society a small amount of that; what is the advantage to the OSI of doing that, can you tell us?

Professor Casselton: Could I just stress that the Royal Society is an independent science academy. We are an independent science academy so we are putting money where we think it is most appropriate and that is for funding the best science.

Q210 Dr Iddon: Let me move on to the interest in your schemes from researchers around the country; are you over-subscribed or do you have to chase people? Perhaps I could start with the British Council.

Dr Anderson: Can I just come back on a couple of points there? There is an issue in the sense that for a long time there has not been a clear international policy on the part of the Research Councils, a coherent, clear international policy, so it has been difficult to know what their geographical subject priorities have been. It is important to know that to avoid the sorts of overlaps and duplications that can occur otherwise. For the British Council's part we have collaboration schemes and we very carefully have targeted those at the younger researchers, by which I mean early stage researchers, end of post-grad, through post-doc up to a couple of years of tenure, because our feeling was that there is money available for the more established scientist through the Royal Society or through the Research Councils, but there is not much money there to help those young researchers get onto the first rung of the collaboration ladder. Once you have got them onto that first rung there are other bodies which can help fund them and get them up, so in a sense we have differentiated in terms of target audience and taken an attitude that we should be underpinning the work of the Research Councils. We have two schemes, one of international networking for young scientists, which are M plus M workshops, so we would pick, say, 15 young British researchers to go to Spain and meet with 15 young Spanish researchers and talk about stem cells or some other subject, biotechnology and reproductive technology have been other areas that we have carried out workshops on in Spain. We get far more applications to run these workshops than we can fund and we also have just started a scheme called research exchange programme which gives individuals essentially a travel grant, a bit of money to be able to go to the lab in the other country and establish some contacts. Again, that was oversubscribed in its first year; we had 300 odd proposals and we could only fund about 70 exchange visits. Going back to the workshop scheme, that is allowing us to fund about 1000 participants a year to take part in workshops, so they are oversubscribed, it makes them competitive and maybe a bit more of a thing to have but otherwise we have to push people towards professional bodies or towards the EU or towards the Royal Society to see if they have sums of money that would be able to support that sort of work. I would also point out that the British Council manages schemes on behalf of others, so for the DfES we manage a very large scheme of collaboration with India called UKIERI (UK-India Education and Research Initiative) and we also manage DFID's funds for DELPHE which is a programme of collaboration between higher education institutes in the UK and developing countries. Our schemes are oversubscribed, therefore, but we are also managing other schemes and we are aware of what the other players can offer.

Q211 Dr Iddon: I have to confess I have benefited from both those organisations in the past so if I sounded critical it was just to provoke you. What about the Royal Society, are your schemes oversubscribed?

Dr Jones: They are oversubscribed. I would say that one of the main things that differentiates our schemes from some of the other schemes - for example those of the Research Councils - is their flexibility. On the international side that means the broad subject scope and also the broad geographical scope, the number of countries that we collaborate with. In terms over-subscription the most recent figures show that our fellowships are heavily oversubscribed, with typically four to ten applicants per position. Our other schemes are also over-subscribed, typically two or three applicants per grant award. We could therefore fund a lot more people with more funding without compromising on the standards of excellence.

Q212 Dr Iddon: Could I just ask one last question of the British Council. I do not know whether it was a deliberate policy but I went to some quite awkward places with the British Council, for example East Germany when the Wall was up, and it was rather traumatic going to East Germany in those days but it was to establish bridges, obviously, across that difficult boundary. Is that still a policy of the British Council, that you send scientists ---

Dr Anderson: To the most difficult places we can think of? I would not have said it was ever a policy.

Dr Harris: The most difficult scientists.

Q213 Dr Iddon: It was not a deliberate policy.

Dr Anderson: No.

Q214 Chairman: Could you extend it to MPs?

Dr Anderson: There is an important point there, that we have just recently moved quite a lot of resource out of Europe and into the Middle East because we see it as important in engaging in those countries, so we would very much like to see science being used as a way of building those bridges in the Middle East. It is difficult to get UK researchers to go there because they are going to say the science is not that great in Yemen or Saudi Arabia or wherever, so we would like the UK researchers to have a more international perspective and to think about international relations as much as they think about their science.

Q215 Dr Iddon: It does sound as if that policy still exists.

Professor Casselton: I would really like to reinforce that statement. When I was 24 I was sent off to Nigeria to teach for three months; it was an incredible experience and I feel that young scientists, particularly in their early research career, should be encouraged to visit other countries. If they are going to be our scientific leaders, if they are going to be policy-makers they need to understand - I think I have said this before - that these countries do not necessarily run like ours and it is a case of using science as the basis of exchanging this social interaction which I think is very important for the future.

Chairman: I was sent to Chapeltown in Leeds, and I can tell you that was an international experience. We have to move onto Dr Harris.

Q216 Dr Harris: Turning to the Royal Society's criticisms of the Research Councils, your written evidence I imagine was prepared by Dr Jones and it says approved by you, Professor Casselton. For each of you, at the time you drafted this and approved it had you in fact read the RCUK strategy and the strategies of the individual Research Councils, as you were alleged not to have done by Professor Diamond when he gave oral evidence?

Dr Jones: I can answer that on behalf of both of us. Yes, we had read it. The RCUK strategy is not yet published, it is a draft in discussion. The other Research Councils have various versions of their strategies available; some are longer than others, some are older than others and some are more focused than others. Some of them, we believe, are reasonably good, some are almost very good - the BBSRC's is a very recent document, it is very nicely put together; however, we still maintain our original objective that all of these strategies or part strategies or draft strategies are insufficiently well-aligned with each other, insufficiently well-aligned with the rest of the UK stakeholder community and they are insufficiently proactive and insufficiently bold.

Q217 Dr Harris: Having heard his defence or read the transcript - I assume you have - of the Research Councils' defence in our previous evidence session, do you stick with your view beyond what you have just said, that the international strategies of the Research Councils are not clear, they have yet to incorporate a coherent international dimension into their overall strategy, they need to develop more strategic partnerships with organisations that offer a complementary portfolio, the structure of the Research Councils is overly complicated in comparison to scientific institutions et cetera et cetera.

Dr Jones: Yes.

Q218 Dr Harris: You stand by all of those.

Dr Jones: Yes, but we very much look forward to the publication of RCUK's international strategy later on this year and we hope to be happier with that.

Q219 Dr Harris: In what ways do you (a) seek them to improve first, and (b) in what ways do you expect them specifically to improve in that new strategy.

Dr Jones: They are already doing a lot of international work; clearly, we did not say they did not do any at all. We would like to see that strategy, when it is released, showing that the various Research Councils have aligned their strategies, their practices, their procedures for emerging international collaboration, that they have reflected a real buy-in into the GSIF international strategy and are working together with the other stakeholders in the UK, but what we would really like to see is that they have decided to dedicate some of their funding to supporting international collaborative research projects in a way that they are not doing at the moment.

Q220 Dr Harris: That is the key thing above all the others that is so important for you. What about the fact about recording information? I would say that underpinning all of this is the need to record information about international collaboration because without that data it is very hard to measure progress.

Dr Jones: That is very true. I do feel a little bit sorry for the Research Councils on this because this was a question that they were recently asked, that they have been asked in the last couple of years, and just before those questions were asked we understand that they had introduced a lot of new systems which did not reflect the need for this information to be gathered at all. We can appreciate that it is a bit difficult for them at this stage to go out and collect this data, but if we were able to have that data it would be a very good thing.

Q221 Dr Harris: Can I just ask again about the international mobility of scientists and engineers? In your evidence say it is not clear that the Research Councils' policies internationally (or a lack of them) have any particular impact on post-doctoral mobility. Can you explain why you feel that it is and what would you like them to do more of to enhance that?

Dr Jones: There are two sides to that. The first is that at the moment, because scientists are more or less left to themselves when it comes to international collaboration, if they want to collaborate they can go and find mobility funds from the Research Councils who have relatively generous schemes, from the Royal Society, from the British Council, from a number of providers, so they can be mobile. That is why we said it was not particularly effective mobility because they are able to by themselves be mobile. What we would like to see the Research Councils doing is encouraging them to be more mobile and then provide some follow-up funding. The other side of the answer to that is that we do think the Research Councils could do a lot to support the mobility of post-graduate researchers rather than post-doctorate ones.

Q222 Dr Harris: You think this is important in and of itself beyond the international collaboration for the careers of scientists - you may have heard our previous exchange where there was a question about whether it was really desirable to have to go abroad. Is it a perception of your academy that it is increasingly important to build up CVs to be able to go abroad?

Dr Jones: It is our perception - and Lorna can give you her own views on that - it is also, however, importantly the perception of our principal overseas partners who tell us when we go out there "We rarely see your PhD students out here in our country; we see many German PhD students, we see many French PhD students, we see many American PhD students, we see very few British PhD students, they do not understand us, they do not come here."

Professor Casselton: That brings up another issue which is, of course, the language problem; we are notorious for not having language skills and this was brought up very much in the meetings we have just at the Royal Society this week, about the fact that Russian is daunting as a language for someone who is going to spend a short time there doing research, but I think and I am sure you would agree that it is a very important part of their training that young scientists going to work in places like China or other countries would actually enjoy learning the language and we feel that the Research Councils should in fact be encouraging that sort of visit so that they do, it makes us more international and we are going to have to be more international.

Q223 Dr Harris: Most researchers would say "I will get a couple of publications out" than learn a language because they probably would not find any potential employer that would be forgiving about a publication gap while they learned a language possibly, or had children.

Professor Casselton: As a fellow Oxford person I would say that might be an attitude at Oxford, but I think you are wrong there; you would get the papers out and they would be learning the language at the same time.

Q224 Dr Harris: Finally on the point of mobility, you say in your evidence, "Policies related to the travel of UK PhD students should take into account the needs of those scientists with family or other commitments." What do you mean by that because you heard in the previous session that it is generally the policy (or not) for the host institution to see if they can provide for a partner post, and the US universities do this in particular, we probably do not do it so much here? What do you mean by that statement?

Dr Jones: That statement was made in connection with our recommendation that more PhD students be encouraged to go overseas, but we acknowledged that that was a problem. I would agree with the previous panel who said it is not necessarily the responsibility of research councils to pay an extra salary for that period of time, but they may be able, in conjunction with the British Council and the Foreign Office negotiate some sort of schemes with the overseas partners so they would give some sort of support or would provide some sort of environment which would encourage that.

Q225 Dr Harris: Dr Anderson, do you have any points on what the Research Councils can do, firstly, to stimulate the mobility of researchers to and from the UK and on anything you have just heard?

Dr Anderson: For the last three years the British Council has been running an EU/OSI-funded project called Network UK which is to help foreign researchers relocate to the UK for a period of work. The policy for that comes from the high level working group on barriers to mobility in Europe, which discovered that having awarded Marie Curie fellowships to a number of people they did not necessarily take those fellowships up and so they wanted to know what the barriers were for that. A lot of it comes down to domestic issues. We have touched on a very important one, which is about finding a job for your partner; there are other issues such as child care, being able to open a bank account, being able to find accommodation and so on. The universities exercise a good duty of care at the undergraduate level, but as you go up through post-graduate to post-doc and so on the extent of that duty of care falls away, it becomes something that the individual supervisor who has invited the researcher to come may or may not worry about. We have been trying with this project to give all the sorts of information that would make it easier for researchers to come here, and on the point about jobs we have in fact put a job search engine onto the website so that researchers are able to look for jobs for their partners in the areas that they are going to. I would agree, I cannot see that the Research Councils should be funding or providing financial support for the partner but they could certainly be assisting us in pointing out what jobs are available - there may be other jobs within the university or within the education system or whatever. I have also said in our evidence that we were somewhat disappointed by the Research Councils' lack of interest in the EU project that we are funding.

Q226 Dr Harris: That is in that portal that you were mentioning, the mobility portal for research.

Dr Anderson: Yes, and that is a mistake. Certainly at the moment if you look at the statistics for the Marie Curie fellowships across Europe, then there is a very, very large peak for the UK and every other country has a much smaller share of the Marie Curie fellows. A lot of that is to do with English but it is also to do with the fact that Britain is seen as the place to come for science but we cannot assume that that position is going to remain. Germany and France are getting very much more sophisticated in the ways they attract researchers to come. France, for example, offers a sort of research passport - before you ever leave your own country you can get this passport from the French foreign ministry that enables you to fast-track visa, to find cheap accommodation, to get discounts on things, to open a bank account, a bank account will in fact be waiting for you when you get to the country. They are doing lots of measures, therefore, to encourage the inward flow of researchers.

Q227 Dr Harris: Whereas we just have queues.

Dr Anderson: We just have queues. Sorry.

Chairman: I will leave that there if I could, because I want to try and get Chris in just before we finish and we only have seven minutes left.

Q228 Chris Mole: I get the impression that you would welcome the development of dedicated funding streams for international research activities within the Research Councils; how would you respond to concerns that such funding might be taken from other areas such as basic research?

Professor Casselton: If the Research Councils do not have additional funds then obviously it will be taken away from the traditional funding streams, but really what we are saying is that we have to be more outward-looking, we have got to go out.

Q229 Chris Mole: Even at the expense of basic research.

Professor Casselton: We said that a small percentage of the Research Councils' budget would be enough to fund the research we are thinking about, so I do not think we would be jeopardising too much fundamental research in the UK - in fact, we would be enhancing it because we would be having our researchers working with researchers elsewhere, equally funded, twice the number of people working on the project and presumably twice the productivity. It is probably going to be fundamental research, or it could be.

Dr Anderson: Science is an international endeavour, it is no longer a national endeavour, so it has to be a priority for the Research Councils. Going back to the Lord Sainsbury figure, five per cent of the science done in the UK, 95 per cent is not. You do not see similar sorts of proportions applying to the way that the funding is distributed in the Research Councils' activities, so perhaps there needs to be some levelling up.

Q230 Chris Mole: What would it look like in terms of follow-on funding; can you give us some examples of how the support through follow-up funding would benefit the research community?

Dr Anderson: I would point to the States. The US has been very successful in attracting researchers by simply inviting post-docs to work in labs and providing money for post-docs to be able to do that.

Q231 Chris Mole: How would that differ from normal response mode funding?

Dr Anderson: The response mode funding is on the back of a UK researcher, as I understand, submitting an excellent proposal and going through peer review. There can be a component of that that is for international activity, but the primary focus is for that piece of research to be done in the UK by the UK researcher; it is not the same thing at all as having schemes which enable foreign post-docs or post-graduates to be able to come to the UK and work the periods in excellent labs.

Dr Jones: The important point to make is that it is not money taken away from UK basic research, it is just money given to UK basic research in a slightly different form because that research has to be international, and there are many different ways that the Research Councils, together in partnership, could do that. Just to give you one example of what it might look like is that next time Sir David King or the minister sit down with their Chinese counterparts they say "Right, we from the British Research councils have 20 million to put on the table; are you willing to match that funding?" to which the answer will probably be "Yes" and then the Chinese funding agency and the Research Councils in the UK can sit down together to explore on which particular themes those calls might be made and how that 20 million might be split up between the UK Research Councils and sort out how the double jeopardy can be addressed, all of those sorts of process issues, and then the call is made, joint research teams apply for it, win the funds, the UK Research Councils fund the work in the UK and the Chinese fund the work in China, but it is aligned and it has been put on the table so it is a great political success and it is a success for UK science.

Dr Anderson: Can I illustrate this with an example? I mentioned that there was a year of awareness-raising in Canada; one of the concrete things that came out of that was an agreement between the British Council and the National Research Council of Canada to create a joint research fund which ran for three years. At the end of those three years we said we need to use our money for other things and went to EPSRC to ask them if they could pick up the UK end of that scheme, but they could not. They could not because they insisted that all proposals on the UK side went through their peer review system and the Canadians should go through theirs, so the issue of double jeopardy was such a problem that in the end, despite the fact that the Canadians were prepared to pour a lot of money into a bilateral scheme, the UK could not pick the other end up. Something went badly wrong there.

Q232 Chris Mole: Can I finish then with looking at metrics. Professor Casselton mentioned the progress in French and German investment and when we look at the UK share in international co-publications you can see what has been happening there; is that the right metric for measuring international collaboration, and how do you measure the success impact of international activities within your own organisation?

Professor Casselton: It is a good measure of international collaboration, yes.

Q233 Chris Mole: That example.

Professor Casselton: Yes, at one level. Sometimes it is difficult in that international collaboration occurs without funding and so some of the best laboratories are talking to each other, but it is a good measure of how much collaboration is going on and it is one that people like China - and I do mention China a lot today because we have been surrounded by Chinese for the past two days - they are very, very conscious of what it means in terms of publications and that is what they want, good publications with good collaborators.

Dr Anderson: It is different for the British Council. It goes back to the point that we are seeking different outcomes and while the problem with science and the British Council is that if we look at the standard performance measures of numbers of co-authored publications or the leverage of downstream funding from the framework programme or whatever, whilst in themselves they are very good measures, as Lorna is saying, within the British Council there is a so what factor because it does not relate particularly well to the outcomes. What has been interesting is that OSI and the Foreign Office recently collected evidence about collaborations in China and India, and if you do a retrospective analysis you will discover, if you go back 10, 14, 20 years, that a lot of these collaborations which are now important started out as a British Council travel grant or something like that. That is a very useful measure because it demonstrates that a relationship has been established which has worked in the long term and has led to an increase in scientific output.

Q234 Chris Mole: I am not sure if you are saying that is a metric you have or you should have.

Dr Anderson: It is one we are working on.

Chairman: On that note I will bring this session to an end. Professor Casselton, Dr Bernie Jones and Dr Lloyd Anderson, thank you very much indeed for coming before us this morning; we have very much enjoyed our exchange with you.