Submission from the Royal Academy of Engineering
A Response on behalf of the Engineering Community
to IUSS Commons Select Committee.
1.1. This response has been prepared by
the Royal Academy of Engineering with the endorsement of a number
of engineering institutions and organisations, a full list of
which is included at Annex A. It therefore concentrates on the
implications of Government Science Policy on engineering research
and the relevance of engineering to wider Government policy decisions.
1.2. We have taken the view that this Inquiry
is concerned with the formulation of Science and Engineering Policy
rather than the influence of science and engineering advice on
general policy development (which was covered in some depth in
the Committee's previous inquiry into Engineering and its case
study "Engineering in Government"). Consequently,
where there might be ambiguity in the questions as to whether
it refers to "science and engineering policy" or "science
and engineering in policy" we have interpreted the meaning
as "science and engineering policy".
1.3. In the context of science policy, we
feel it is important to recognise that the outputs of engineering
research are fundamentally different to the outputs of pure science
research in terms of its immediate usefulness. This can be generalised
by thinking of the outputs of science and engineering research
being at different ends of the Technology Readiness Level scale
developed by NASA and the US Military in the late 1980s to assess
how close to useful deployment a particular technology might be.
Engineering outputs will generally be at TRL 4 or above and
Pure Science outputs at levels one to three.
1.4. The Haldane Principle, which has guided
Government Science Policy for many decades, therefore has different
meanings when applied to the direction of science and engineering
research. For pure science, it seems reasonable that researchers
themselves should be best placed to understand what direction
their research should proceed in and they should not be constrained
in their academic endeavours. For engineering, on the other hand,
it seems reasonable that Government should express requirements
in terms of general challenges that can be met through directed
research and expect researchers to be able to contribute to the
development of solutions to wider policy deployment problems.
This generalisation is expressed here in terms of "pure science"
versus "engineering", but could easily apply in any
disciplines where there are marked differences in TRLs between
pure and applied research.
1.5. Science Policy and the steering of
the research agenda by Government, if it is to be more overt,
should aim not only to address the needs of wider Government Policy
deployment, but also the economic competitiveness of the UK and
the grand challenges facing our society. While it is true that
at the higher levels of technology readiness, there should be
significant industry pull for promising technologies, there remain
many pre-commercial technologies which require Government sponsored
research and development if they are to reach the point at which
industry pull will be sufficient for their continued development.
The creation of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has recognised
this need for investment in pre-competitive technologies, but
it is not clear either where the boundaries of "science policy"
and "technology policy" are in these cases or how they
should interact. The TSB also has the role of addressing market
failures where industry is unable or unwilling to take on the
pre-commercial development of promising technologies.
2. Does 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 should
there be a Department for Science?
2.1. The Council for Science and Technology
does valuable work but only meets on a quarterly basis. The Cabinet
Sub-Committee on Science and Innovation is a sub-committee of
the Cabinet Committee for Economic Development and therefore only
reports to Cabinet indirectly. Whilst both of these initiatives
are worth supporting, neither could be said to put science and
engineering at the heart of policy-making.
2.2. As the engineering community made clear
in its response to the House of Commons IUSS Select Committee
case study into "Engineering in Government",
there is a clear need for engineering and science advice to taken
on board across all areas of Government policy formation at the
very earliest stages. This incorporation of engineering and science
advice into policy making could be interpreted as a different
issue to that of making science policy central to Government policy
making. Investment in the science and engineering research base
and the funding of research is a pre-requisite to the provision
of sound science and engineering advice to Government and in this
sense, "science policy" and the use of good science
and engineering advice in wider policy formation are intrinsically
2.3. The Council for Science and Technology
is routinely asked to provide advice to Government on specific
questions and in some instances to scrutinise the Government's
response against commitments eg in reviewing the Government's
response to the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society's
joint report on Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies,.
Their role has been to advise on science and technology issues
which are by their nature cross-departmental and while it has
advised on Government Science Policy, their remit is generally
much wider than this.
2.4. The question as to whether there should
be a Department of Science is complex and there is little consensus
on the issue. Currently, science policy (the support and funding
of the research base and its direction) lies within DIUS. The
broader remit of ensuring that science and engineering research
across departments is relevant, fit for purpose and contributes
properly to the work of Government lies with the Chief Scientific
Advisor, whose office, Go-Science, also resides within DIUS. Scientific
and engineering research is funded and carried out by a number
of departments where this research is in support of the department's
policy objectives. As science and engineering research are important
to many departments, it is not clear what the role of a Department
of Science could be beyond the funding and maintenance of the
university research base.
2.5. A strong argument for the establishment
of a Department of Science is that it would signal a strong and
lasting commitment by Government to continued investment in the
UK science base. The strong recommendation from the UK Engineering
Community would be that should the department be established,
it should be called the Department for Science and Engineering.
2.6. Arguably, the process of developing
science and engineering policy within Government could be improved
by improving the scientific and engineering literacy of the civil
servants within departments. In our joint response to the Committee's
case study into Engineering in Government, this point is made
very clearly and applies equally to the assessment of advice pertaining
to general policy issues as it does to developing science and
2.7. The funding of scientific and engineering
research in general has been high in the Government's agenda for
at least a decade and it is arguable that it takes at least this
long to see the benefits of that funding flowing into the UK economy.
This presents a strong case to maintain the science budget at
least current levels going forward. However, against international
comparators, it could be argued that science and engineering in
the economy in general are not high enough in Government's list
of priorities with UK investment in R&D below the EU average
and spending on higher education at only 1.3% of GDP, below that
of all the UK's major competitors.
3. Strengths and Weaknesses of How the Government
Formulates Science Policy
3.1. The creation of Departmental Chief
Scientific Advisors and Scientific Advisory Councils has been
a major advance in strengthening the Government's approach to
formulating science and engineering policy.
3.2. The continued application of the Haldane
Principle (however strongly) means that the Government has few
mechanisms available with which to influence how the science base
in the UK develops, short of the amount of money made available
to it through the current dual funding mechanism.
3.3. Research themes can be set by the Government
Office for Science and the Research Councils are able to bid for
extra funds by proposing programmes under these themes. In this
case, researcher directions are not directly set by researchers
except for responsive mode funding within the themes.
3.4. The current system of funding research
with some imposition of research themes appears to be fit for
purpose, but there is no structured mechanism for feedback. The
Research Councils are required to fund research which contributes
to UK competitiveness and quality of life, but there seems to
be little assessment as to whether these are more likely to be
achieved sponsoring research in, say chemistry than computer science.
The establishment of priority research areas for the Research
Councils in areas such as energy and living with environmental
change are useful in supporting the general challenges of wider
3.5. The mechanisms by which research funding
is directed through the Research Councils to individual researchers
or groups and the top-down imposition of research priorities work
well and have the confidence of researchers. However, some feel
that the Research Assessment Exercise, administered by HEFCE to
allocate block grant to universities in support of research infrastructure,
has a strong distorting effect on the range and types of research
carried out in the UK, not least because it is a competitive system
between universities and could discourage collaboration between
institutions though collaboration is often sought and rewarded
by the Research Councils and Regional Development Agencies.
3.6. The competitive "call for proposals"
method is often useful but there are some instances where another
method would be more suitable for use by research councils or
TSBfor example, to agree to co-fund company or university
work where the company has already selected its preferred partner;
or to scope out centrally what's required and then go and commission/implement
it, systematically, on the basis of an objective analysis of who's
best placed to conduct the work.
3.7. The continued health of the science
base, which must be a major concern of Government science policy,
is linked to the level and provision of technical skills throughout
the UK economy. UK based research is both a provider to and user
of technical skills in the wider economy and there must therefore
be strong links between the Skills Councils and GO-Science to
ensure its continued and future health and capabilities.
4. Are the Views of the Science and Engineering
Community central to the formulation of Government policy and
how is the success of any consultation assessed?
4.1. There are very strong arguments for
the views and expertise of the science and engineering community
to be taken into account in the formulation of wider Government
policy and the Engineering Community's views on this matter are
made in its response to the Committee's inquiry into "Engineering
in Government" during 2008. Where science and engineering
knowledge is central to a particular policy, then the policy should
be based on the best available science and engineering knowledge,
either through peer-reviewed research or, if that is out of date
or insufficient, on the consensus opinions of a group of independent
4.2. The more specific question as to whether
the views of the science and engineering community should be central
the formulation of science policy is less clear. It is clear that
those involved in science and engineering research should be consulted,
but it is not clear that their views should be central to policy
formulation. A strong case could be made for additional funding
for engineering research to strategically support the UK's manufacturing
sector at a time of economic downturn, but as other areas of academic
endeavour have more researchers, they may have a louder voice
in Government and be able to sway Government funding away from
nationally strategic areas.
5. Is there a case for Regional Science Policy
(versus national Science Policy) and does the Haldane Principle
5.1. A good national science policy would
take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the regions.
Geographic clusters, which are strongly supported by some Regional
Development Agencies, are important for innovation (as research
has shown and as Government Policy already accepts). There is
therefore a need for regional science and engineering policies
that are coordinated with regional innovation policies. Regional
policies should be dovetailed into national science policy and
both should be complimentary.
5.2. Regional policies currently seem to work
subserviently to national science policy and the establishment
of clusters seems mostly to be driven by pre-existing industrial
capacity in an area and consequent links with academia or the
creation of high-tech clusters around established universities.
Whichever way around particular clusters have developed, research
funding should be channelled to universities based on the quality
of the research proposals and not in support of any local cluster.
5.3. It should be recognised that while
regional policies should dovetail into national science and innovation
policy (so you do not for instance, end up with competing centres
in each region), intelligently formulated innovation policy, usually
RDA-backed but implemented in partnership with business, has achieved
a great deal over the past 8-9 years that would not have
been achieved if by policies driven from central Government.
Regional innovation policy demonstrably works. Witness the remarkable
turnround in the process industries in the North East, closely
tied to the region's innovation-led Strategy for Success and with
clear links to inward investment; or the very considerable support
for automotive engineering (Warwick/PARD), sensor technology (QinetiQ)
and hydrogen energy (Birmingham et al) in the West Midlands
(driven by Advantage West Midlands).
5.4. The Haldane principle has guided Government's
involvement in research funding for many years and for the majority
of research disciplines, particularly for fundamental research
and pure sciences, the concept that researchers themselves should
determine the direction of research is strongly supported. Engineering
research, however, can be aimed at applications much closer to
commercial application. Where this is the case, it seems reasonable
that Government should want to encourage research in areas that
support national policies. Government currently does this through
the Research Councils' priority research areas.
5.5. A further softening of the Haldane
Principle seems to have resulted in "top slicing" of
Research Council budgets to fund new bodies such as the Technology
Strategy Board and the Energy Technology Institute. These new
bodies have specific objectives and are able to fund research
or development projects in different ways to those available to
the Research Councils. This could be seen as diverting funds away
for the fundamental science and research that the Research Councils
are primarily responsible for and that provides the knowledge
supply for exploiting tomorrow. There is clearly a role for these
organisations in funding very applied research and demonstrator
projects, the only question raised here is whether their partial
funding through the Research Council budgets is fully compatible
with the Haldane Principle.
6. Engaging the Public and Increasing Public
Confidence in Science and Engineering Policy
6.1. There is a very strong case for researchers
to be involved in public engagement, public dialogue and public
understanding of science activities. These can all contribute
to the general public confidence in science and engineering research
if they are used appropriately. The question as to whether there
should be public involvement in setting Government science and
engineering policy is less clear. If, in controversial areas of
research (stem cell research, genetic modification, systems biology
etc) it is accepted that the Haldane Principle should be allowed
to determine the direction of research, then public engagement,
where the public are led to believe their views have a real impact
on decisions, is of no value and can be counter-productive.
6.2. If any organisation is to use public engagement
as a tool for developing public policy, it must commit to listening
to and acting on the views that the public express. The purpose
of the public engagement must be clear from the outset and the
methods of engagement employed suited to the purpose.
6.3. The Royal Academy of Engineering and
the wider engineering community responded to the DIUS Consultation,
"Science and Society" in October 2008
and this sets out the views of the engineering community on the
use of public engagement in science and engineering. In this consultation,
DIUS was keen to understand how to "excite" the public
about science and engineering so that the public is better able
to engage with the science agenda. A final strategy for "Science
and Society" is expected from the department early in
7. 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
7.1. Science and engineering research cannot
exist in a vacuum and there must be end users for the research
carried out. At the very pure end of the research spectrum, there
is room for research purely for academic endeavour, but as research
becomes more applied, real world applications become the main
drivers. It therefore follows that science and engineering policy
should be based, to a significant degree, on the needs of, for
example, UK based manufacturing industry and its potential to
contribute to the UK economy as a whole. The wider science and
engineering community, including industry, in the UK is therefore
a key stakeholder in science and engineering policy.
7.2. Consultation with stakeholders is an essential
part of the development of any policy, however, it must be recognised
that consultees have specific positions for which they lobby and
there is always a danger that policy is in effect set by those
groups with the best lobbyists. It is the job of Government to
take balanced policy decisions based on the input of consultation.
7.3. For consultation with stakeholders
to be effective or meaningful, it is essential that DIUS and other
Government Departments are intelligent customers for the advice
8. How Should Government Science and Engineering
Policy be Scrutinised?
8.1. The current system of Parliamentary
scrutiny allows for the various Departments to be scrutinised
by the relevant House of Commons Select Committee. In general,
this system seems to be adequate, but there is a strong case for
a single Select Committee to have the remit to examine all Departments
identify their science requirements and commission, manage, quality
assure and use science and engineering advice.
8.2. The House of Commons Science and Technology
Select Committee had this remit to examine science across all
of Government before it was disbanded and replaced by the current
IUSS Select Committee. It may be preferable for the role of scrutinising
science across Government be incorporated into the IUSS Select
Committee's remit rather than a new committee be created.
163 http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codeq/trl/trlchrt.pdf Back
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