Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 23

Submission from Imperial College London


    —  Science and engineering challenges in the 21st Century are global, involving "big science", work across traditional academic disciplines and require multidisciplinary, often multi-national approaches.—  Science and engineering policy-making must be underpinned by academic rigour and credibility and efforts should be made to improve this. Universities have a major role to play in enabling academic input and in understanding and resolving issues.—  The general public is increasingly aware of the importance of science and engineering in tackling important issues. Scientists and engineers should be incentivised to make their work accessible and understandable to the public.

    —  An evidence-based approach to policy-making is supported strongly and we agree with the wide consensus on the value of science in our society.

    —  The structures in place to deliver and scrutinise policy in Government are appropriate but need to be expanded, strengthened and further empowered where appropriate.

    —  We support the Haldane Principle, since it enables flexibility and ensures that issues are addressed in the most transparent manner. However, it needs to be examined to ensure excellence is not compromised by regional policies.

    —  Regional issues can be dealt with in the context of national policies.

  Our response to the specific questions posed in the inquiry is detailed in the paragraphs below:

Whether the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science and Innovation and the Council for Science and Technology put science and engineering at the heart of policy-making and whether there should be a Department for Science

  1.  We agree that science and engineering should be at the heart of policy making and believe that the current structure is appropriate but believe that it should be strengthened and empowered by, for example enabling National Academies and Universities to strengthen their evidence-based policy advice to Government.

2.  We do not believe that a Department for Science would be in the best interests of science or the UK economy. Science increasingly addresses global challenges that are inter/multi-disciplinary and that are very closely linked to the innovation pipeline. In this way, science contributes to the global economy and will play its part in addressing the current financial crisis. It is therefore key that the Government Department which oversees science also has innovation on its agenda. A close link with education is also essential to enable high quality learning and teaching for the next generation of researchers and policy-makers. The creation of a separate Department of Science could silo science policy making.

How Government formulates science and engineering policy (strengths and weaknesses of the current system)

  3.  We support the current practice of a Chief Scientific Advisor being located in every Government Department and the work of the CSA should increasingly be mainstreamed.

4.  We support the evidence-based approach to policy-making and welcome the increasing use of "think tanks" and wide consultation. Greater transparency, is to be encouraged, including publicising policy consultations more effectively and rewarding time and expertise given to contributing to policy making.

Whether the views of the science and engineering community are, or should be, central to the formulation of government policy, and how the success of any consultation is assessed

  5.  Scientific policy making must have academic rigour and credibility. Efforts should be made to improve this. For example, we agree with the measures proposed in the recent submission from the Council for Science and Technology to DIUS on Academia and Public Policy Making (http://www.dius.gov.uk/policy/academia_and_public_policy.html). As a top UK University, Imperial College is pursuing a leading role in driving more proactive and productive links between its academics and Government decision makers. A pioneering example is the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial founded in 2007, with the twin goals of both generating the highest quality research on climate science and climate-driven change, and translating this research into sustainable technological, political and socio-economic responses to inform Government decision making. With its more recently formed sister institute at LSE, the Grantham Institute aims to provide solutions to the big policy challenges building on Imperial's scientific and technological expertise. Building on the Grantham model, Imperial has now established similar institutes in 3 other top priority areas: energy futures, global health and security.

6.  The success of policy arising from consultations should be measured. This could be based on a Scorecard approach, such that clear objectives are set out at the beginning of the consultation and the outcomes reviewed against these objectives. Metrics could include the number and quality of responses received, the level of spread across stakeholders and, importantly, the extent to which the policy has taken account of the views put forward. Greater transparency of the way in which the consultation has influenced policy would be welcomed.

The case for a regional science policy (versus national science policy) and whether the Haldane principle needs updating

  7.  Whilst we recognise that local universities working with local companies is not a bad thing, we would not wish this to be at the expense of national and international collaborations. Science is global and should not be directed by narrow regional concerns.

8.  There may, however, be a case for an over-riding regional issue to inform, or drive national science policy. For example, supporting and delivering the innovation pipeline within the research intensive, yet expensive M25 boundary may drive a national policy on the provision of incubator space.

  9.  We support the Haldane principle as it currently stands. We would welcome re-confirmation and re-statement of its definition and application.

Engaging the public and increasing public confidence in science and engineering policy

  10.  The public perception (often conveyed as mistrust) of science must be improved, such that it is seen as engaging and important. It must be seen as something which everyone can contribute to, at least in some way. Schools have an important role to play here.

11.  It is essential that positive action is taken to ensure the public is better informed about science and engineering, how science and engineering impact on policy and how individuals can contribute and make a difference to policy development.

  12.  Whilst we recognise the value of the work undertaken by the Royal Society, other Learned Societies, museums etc, all organisations concerned with science and engineering should continue to work proactively with the public to tell them how exciting science and engineering is and to involve them in developing policy. For Universities, this might include establishing science and society and policy centres, holding more public lectures, developing roving exhibitions, holding open days, running consultations etc. Such activities must be funded and recognised and rewarded appropriately.

  13.  To this end, Imperial College London has recently funded and established a science and engineering policy centre that will take account of the views of its scientists and engineers and the wider community to contribute to Government policy-making.

The role of GO-Science, DIUS and other Government departments, charities, learned societies, Regional Development Agencies, industry and other stakeholders in determining UK science and engineering policy

  14.  All such organisations have an important role to play in developing science and engineering policy but it is important that advice is as independent as possible and that financial and inter-departmental funding considerations do not unduly influence the funding outcomes. Transparency of process and outcomes of their deliberations is also important.

15.  Universities themselves have an important role in determining such policy since academic staff are at the cutting edge of research developments.

How government science and engineering policy should be scrutinised

  16.  The role of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee is crucial in the scrutiny of government science and engineering policy.

January 2009

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