Submission from Universities UK
1. Universities UK is delighted to contribute
to the Select Committee enquiry into "Putting Science and
Engineering at the heart of Government Policy". As the major
representative body for the higher education sector, Universities
UK has 133 members who are the executive heads of the universities
in the UK. Universities UK works closely with policy makers and
key stakeholders to advance the interests of universities and
2. This submission indicates the considerable
work universities are undertaking to support and promote Science
and Engineering as part of Government Policy. These areas include:
development of the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF); increased
knowledge transfer activities; encouraging an interest of careers
in science and engineering to students; skills development for
those already studying; and consideration of the regional spread
of science and engineering departments. Work on the Research
Assessment Exercise (RAE) also forms part of Higher Education's
contribution to this agenda.
3. It is essential that public policy is
underpinned by high quality research and evidence. Universities
UK therefore, agrees with the Council for Science & Technology
(CST) that we need a healthy engagement between academics and
policy makers. UK higher education is well placed to contribute
to and inform public policy making. The UK is home to some of
the best research universities and institutions, representing
1% of the global population but producing 9% of the world's scientific
publications and 12% of scientific citations. The recent Research
Assessment Exercise confirmed the UK's leading global position,
with over half of submissions (54%) judged to be either "world
leading" (17% in 4*) or "internationally excellent"
(37% in 3*) across a broad range of subject areas.
4. From the university perspective, through
mechanisms such as the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF)
[in England], there has been a step change in knowledge exchange
activities between universities and the public and private sectors,
which has changed the culture of institutions and resulted in
real economic and social benefit to the UK
5. The Higher EducationBusiness
and Community Interaction Survey for 2006-7 showed that
income from collaborative research rose by 12 per cent in
the UK to nearly £670 million. Projects with Research
Councils UK as the public funder accounted for the greatest share
and increase in collaborative research. Spending on contract research
increased by 20% with an associated increase of 12% in the number
of interactions. The largest part of this increase was non-commercial
partners, accounting for over £446 million of the £783 million
total. Combined, all research-related activities totalled over
£1.4 billion in 2006-07.
6. Despite the progress made by universities
over the last 10 years we acknowledge the CST's concern that
"engagement between academics and policy makers in the UK
is not as strong as it might be". In doing this it will be
important that we can continue to encourage culture change in
institutions and work towards greater clarity and coherence in
the relationship and interaction between academia, Government
and professional bodies..
7. On the government side progress has also
been made. Every government department now has a Chief Scientific
Advisor and this presents an opportunity that did not used to
exist. There do however remain some problems on the "pull
side". Government, both national and regional, needs to get
better at highlighting the opportunities and communicating the
entry points for academic advice. There is sometimes a perception
in academia that the policy process in government is difficult
to penetrate or a closed shop.
8. Intergovernmental/academic exchange is
a very beneficial process, however, mechanisms to facilitate and
support this could be strengthened. Some academics, for example,
find it difficult because of a lack of support by civil servants.
Greater flexibility would also be beneficial. It would be easier
for academics to work in government on a part-time basis in order
for them to remain engaged in the university eg to supervise PhD
students, and to keep their knowledge up to date. There also needs
to be a clear and transparent mechanism for issues such conflict
of interest, which can often be a concern for academics wishing
to inform public policy
9. Programmes for civil servants to be seconded
to universities, so that they have a better understanding of HE
sector, would also be helpful. Most civil servants have the "student
experience" point of view of universities (studying undergraduate/postgraduate
courses), which provides at best a partial view of how modern
10. The importance of higher education informing
public policy making is not limited to science and engineering.
The British Academy report published in September 2008, Punching
our weight: the humanities and social sciences in public policy
making, found that researchers and policy makers agree that
opportunities are being missed, because policy makers are not
exploiting all that humanities and social science research offers.
Universities UK agrees that more funding needs to be dedicated
to supporting long-term knowledge development and longitudinal
research that can offer a range of different solutions and perspectives
to potential problems, as opposed to short-term research designed
to meet immediate demands. We would also welcome moves by government
departments to make their research priorities clearer and enter
into timely dialogue with the academic community to ensure that
they can work together effectively.
11. As highlighted in the joint Universities
UK, RCUK and UNICO publication, Impacts: successes from UK
research, investment in research improves the relative international
and overall innovation performance of the UK economy. Significant
innovations emerge from all research disciplines, including financial
services, and arts and humanities research which underpins the
UK's creative industries, and contributes £11.4 billion
to the UK balance of trade.
12. We endorse the Engineering Technology
that, if we are to increase interest in engineering and technology
as a career in the long term, the government, employers, institutions,
policy-makers, funders and other stakeholders need a greater recognition
of the need for interventions designed to interest and enthuse
young peopleespecially womenin engineering at a
much younger age. Higher education institutions have a role to
play in encouraging young people to study these subjects, but
a coherent, strategic approach agreed by all stakeholders is required.
13. We agree with the Engineering Technology
Board on the importance of upskilling the UK's workforce through
training, development and lifelong learning, and that employers
have a key role in developing their employees. Higher education
institutions aim to continue working with employers nationally,
regionally and locally to develop relationships and solutions
to the challenges we face collectively.
14. Universities UK welcome the contribution
of the Technology Strategy Board to the development of policy
relating to science and engineering, and the work of the Science
& Innovation Councils in developing regional strategies. Going
forward we consider this approach to be the right onethe
development of regional strategies to implement national policy.
15. Given the reduction in the level of funding
for Regional Development Agencies we would expect to see those
structures that are already in place being utilised to take forward
policy development and implementation. Regional Development Agencies
add value for many regions in the area of knowledge transfer,
particularly through their understanding of the company base,
and can also play an important role in facilitating, encouraging
and supporting relationships between universities and business.
That is, embedding policy in practice.
16. Universities UK accepts the suggestion
of the RCUK 2008 Review of UK Physics that, due to
confusion over whether the government has any form of regional
development policy in terms of where facilities should be located,
DIUS and BERR should consult on a restatement of the Haldane
Principle for the modern era. However, we consider that those
best placed to make decisions on the allocation of research funds
are those conducting research, as such decisions need to be made
based on evidence and experience.
17. The Research Assessment Exercise has
been criticised for not encouraging universities to concentrate
on their contribution to the development of public policy, and
encouraged them instead to focus efforts on purely academic success.
UUK was encouraged that the RAE2008, following the Roberts reforms,
was designed to better recognise and reward user valued research.
Moving forward with the development of the Research Excellence
Framework we have an opportunity to enhance this. Universities
UK has already been working with HEFCE to ensure that equal recognition
of user valued research, which includes informing the development
of policy, is built in to the assessment criteria. Most recently
a high level workshop was held to address this question. The full
outcomes can be found on HEFCE's website at http://www.hefce.ac.uk/research/ref/valued/.
172 How academia and government can work together,
Engineering UK, 2008. Back