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

Memorandum 57

Submission from Professor Peter Dobson, Director of Begbroke Science Park, Oxford University



  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 policy.

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 lose?

  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.

April 2009

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