Submission from Professor Peter Dobson,
Director of Begbroke Science Park, Oxford University
PUTTING SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING AT THE HEART
OF GOVERNMENT POLICY
This debate is timely and essential and should
be inclusive and led by the Technology Strategy Board. There should
be more emphasis on useful applied science and engineering that
addresses national and international needs, and this in turn will
create new businesses and benefit society. Government needs to
help to translate the results of research to commercialization.
There might be some loss to our pure science base, but the benefits
of transferring effort to "useful" solution provision
will be far-reaching.
This submission is made by Professor Dobson,
an academic engineer/scientist who has worked in both industry
and universities. He has founded two companies: Oxonica plc and
Oxford Biosensors Ltd and is responsible for setting up a unique
type of Science Park as part of Oxford University. He is still
an active researcher and his range of expertise is broad, covering
nanotechnology, biomedical-sciences, energy and materials science
and engineering. This memorandum addresses the four questions
raised about putting science and engineering at the heart of Government
1. What form a debate or consultation about
the question should take and who should lead it?
The debate should be broad and definitely not
confined to the research councils. It should especially include
business and industry, professional institutes and probably be
led by the Technology Strategy Board. The present set-up of the
research councils is not effective and it needs to be overhauled.
2. Whether such a policy is desirable or necessary?
Such a policy is essential and is urgently needed.
The UK has been sleepwalking into a crisis because there has not
been any clear strategy about key issues of preserving our industry,
our ability to provide sustainable energy, the safeguarding of
future provision for water and food production and a clearly declining
service of healthcare provision. This is not just affecting our
country in these areas, it has greatly reduced our opportunities
to create new businesses and export potential.
3. What the potential implications of such
a policy are for the UK science and engineering higher education,
industry and the economy as a whole?
A proper policy of capturing the inventive and
innovative capabilities of our scientists and engineers to work
towards strategic goals will have far-reaching consequences for
the future of our country. It will restore a sense of purpose
and bring together the pure science base to work more effectively
with engineers and business. This should also have a profound
effect on the way we conduct our education at all levels. We have
to get across the messages that science has to have benefits and
that the outcomes can be rewarding and useful. We need to instill
an ethos of science and engineering as being "solution providers".
One possible outcome is the realization that more Government intervention
and support is needed for "translational research",
that is, at the stages where innovation occurs, between the invention
stage and the full-blown commercialization.
4. Were such a policy pursued, which research
sectors are most likely to benefit and which are most likely to
The sectors that will benefit are the manufacturing
and creative industries which are so important to a modern economy.
Amongst these should be sectors of energy, water, food production,
healthcare and the consumer-based sectors of transport, telecommunications/IT
and electronics. Some of the pure science sectors, especially
physics may lose, but only if they stick to their insistence on
doing blue-sky curiosity-driven research. There has been far too
much spending and emphasis on pure science in the UK in the last
30 years, with the neglect of engineering and applied science.
It is time to redress the balance.