Supplementary submission from the UK Computing
Research Committee (UKCRC)
PUTTING SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING AT THE HEART
OF GOVERNMENT POLICY
1. The UK Computing Research Committee (UKCRC),
an Expert Panel of the British Computer Society, the Institution
of Engineering and Technology and the Council of Professors and
Heads of Computing, was formed in November 2000 as a policy committee
for computing research in the UK. Its members are leading computing
researchers from UK academia and industry. Our evidence reflects
the experience of researchers who each have an established international
reputation in computing.
2. Our evidence thus covers UK research in computing,
which is internationally strong and vigorous, and a major national
3. Leading members of the scientific community
have already identified some long-term ambitious goals which will
have substantial societal and economic impact. UKCRC has been
an early contributor in this area with our work on the UK Grand
Challenges in Computing (http://www.ukcrc.org.uk/grand_challenges/index.cfm).
4. An overt focus on funding research which
brings short-term competitive advantage to the UK is likely to
make the UK much less attractive as an international partner.
Inability to collaborate internationally will make our research
more expensive and time-consuming; failure to submit results to
international scrutiny will reduce the quality and reliability
of the research; and these issues could seriously impact or delay
any hoped-for competitive advantage.
5. The problems of the world today (climate,
finances, depletion of resources, terrorism) are of a kind that
are addressed by our most basic branches of "big" science
(biology, physics, computer science). In all these areas, pursuit
of national competitive advantage is widely recognised to be the
6. A selective focus in research funding
is bound to have unforeseen consequences and needs very careful
consideration. The UKCRC is keen to engage in the discussion.
7. The UK has always been exceptionally
strong in computing research: the first modern computer was developed
at Manchester University and ran its first program in June 1948;
since that time, the UK has played a part in almost all the scientific
and engineering advances in computing. Computer systems have transformed
modern life but the world is still in the early stages of discovering,
inventing and exploiting their full potential. UK computing research
and is a national asset that enhances the UK's international prestige,
attracts inwards investment, and supports innovation for wealth
creation and improved quality of life.
What form of debate or consultation
8. Whilst recognising the imperative for consideration
of such a policy, UKCRC fears that it will inevitably lead to
a decline in the UK's standing in many areas of science and technology.
The debate/consultation on this should be led by an independent
body; one obvious candidate might be a combination of the Academies
(Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering and Academy of Medical
Sciences). Any decision to withdraw from an area of research should
be made only after the Academies have given their best estimates
of the long-term consequences.
Whether such a policy is desirable or necessary
9. Where the UK really falls behind its major
competitors is in getting small start-ups to develop into major
world players. The problem is therefore not at the level of the
research councils but more to do with the enterprise environment
in the UK. It is not clear that a policy that prioritises research
in relation to the country's economic and industry needs would
be desirable or necessary.
10. Failure to participate fully in international
research will make it much less likely that our scientists and
industrialists will give early recognition to, and be capable
of rapid exploitation of, new results obtained by the best scientists
in the rest of the world. As a consequence, concentration on local
advantage could actually reduce our overall innovation.
Potential implications of such a policy
11. The success of UK commerce and industry
relies on the ability to exploit both UK research and results
from elsewhere in the world. This requires a world-class research
base in the UK that is capable of translating the results into
the UK industrial context. A selective policy of research funding
would inevitably lead to loss of capacity in some areas and would
thus threaten our ability to exploit such work.
Winners and Losers
12. Computing research in the UK is a major
contributor to the economy: there are many examples, but one of
the most prominent is ARM with its dominance in the mobile telephony
13. Computer Science has become a vital
component of all other sciences and has made possible new natural
sciences (genomics, computational chemistry, climate modelling
14. Such considerations suggest that Computer
Science, and the broader ICT community, are likely to be winners
from a selective policy. However, we live in a complex research
eco-system and such a policy could have unforeseen and undesirable
consequences in the long-term. UKCRC is very keen to assist the
Government in achieving its aspirations without harm to the science
15. Any decision to withdraw from one area
of scientific research in which our industry is not now effectively
competing will, of course, ensure that our failure to compete
will be permanent. Since competitive advantage cycles among nations
and among industries, within a short time there is the danger
that the UK will become uncompetitive in all fields.
190 This has been confirmed by successive EPSRC International
Reviews, the latest of which reported in 2007, and the 2008 RAE