Submission from the Centre for Sustainable
Urban and Regional Futures (SURF), University of Salford
RESPONSE TO DIUSS SELECT COMMITTEE SUPPLEMENTARY
CALL FOR EVIDENCE
"Has the time come for the UKas
part of a clear economic strategyto make choices about
the balance of investment in science and innovation to favour
those areas in which the UK has clear competitive advantage?"
Developing a clear economic strategy
in this area is problematic in the absence of systematic understanding
about how knowledge exchange in different disciplines and sectors
works. Choices about investments in science and innovation
are made on sets of assumptions which include the relationship
between excellence and relevance and the value attached to different
forms of knowledge.
There is a conflation between the
vision of world class excellent science and particular economic
outcomes, without any rigorous understanding of how expected benefits
can be realised from different areas of knowledgeand the
implications for major knowledge producers, among them universities.
There are dangers in a short-term
reaction to a global economic crisis without examining the underlying
assumptions and deficits of policy.
In particular, we are concerned that
choices made as a result of sub-optimal policy-making processes
will result in further concentration of resources and undermine
the structural, institutional, disciplinary, spatial and industrial
integrity of the research base.
Careful consideration needs to be
given to how opportunities are structured within a renewed policy
of targeting to ensure benefits for the broadest base of the UK
This might include, for instance,
de-linking the thematic concentration of resource from a geographical
or institutional concentration through novel networked, distributed
or satellite forms of organisation and management. Incentives
are needed not only to attract big private sector R&D actors,
but to embed and share the benefits more widely across the industrial
1.1 The Centre for Sustainable Urban and
Regional Futures is a research centre at the University of Salford
under the 6* BuHU Research Institute.
1.2 This submission builds upon SURF's recent
work on European multi-level science and innovation policy; the
roles of universities in the knowledge economy and effective knowledge
exchange between the research base and user communities.
2.1 Has the time come?
Recent policy pronouncements state that it is
the context of the global economic downturn which has created
the impetus for a debate on whether science and innovation policy
should be more targeted to favour areas of "competitive advantage".
What is new is the idea that `relevance' to economic
competitive outcomes should be given greater priority in determining
the broad areas to which funding should be allocated.
"Relevance" is seen as critical if science
and innovation are to deliver on the expectation that they are
stepping stones out of recession and springboards for success
in the economic upturn.
2.2 As part of a clear economic strategy...?
How is this to be realised? Caution should be
exercised in deploying grand assumptions concerning the power
of science and innovation.
Our work has consistently highlighted a "missing
middle" in knowledge exchange between research and user communities.
We know "what" is required but an understanding of "how"
the expected benefits of science and technology, across disciplines,
can most effectively be harnessed and translated into economic,
social and environmental gain, is not so developed.
The "missing middle" relates to how
policy levers, incentives and expectations of science and innovation
fail to match up with the capacity to deliver. A linear, simplistic
understanding of the relationship between research and practice
continues to dominate.
2.3 To make choices about the balance of investment
in science and innovation...
We have a policy of targeting. Choices have
always been made about the balance of investment in science and
innovation. Yet the criteria for such choices are not always clear,
whether economic or scientific.
Research on the formulation of policy processes at
the Centre has highlighted the gap between the identification
of new frameworks for action and the implementation of frameworks
Criteria for a further concentration of resources
must be clear, defensible and coherent, from consultation through
"Choices" can only be as good as the
knowledge they are based upon. Policy rhetoric tends to focus
on a disembedded understanding of excellence, which conflates
world-class, global excellence with particular kinds of scientific
and largely technological knowledge.
Government reinforces a narrow view of scientific
excellence that equates national actions with excellence and regional
actions with relevance.
There is a dichotomy between excellence and
relevance that needs to be overcome. New ways of building "excellent
relevance" and "relevant excellence" for the UK's
competitive knowledge base is needed through what we have termed
2.4 To favour those areas in which the UK
has clear competitive advantage?
The dominance of the disembedded, global, world-class,
`science', excellence view of the world has the effect of devaluing
other forms of knowledge, particularly, for instance, in the social
sciences, arts or humanities, as well as physical sciences in
other institutions and places.
Our work clearly highlights the diverse knowledge
needs of a wide range of industries. Economic benefit is as much
about sharing and integrating existing knowledge as producing
that which is new. Open innovation has the potential for supply-chain
benefits, but the issue of ownership and embeddedness of footloose
multi-national R&D remains problematic.
We see an increasing stratification in the higher
education sector between research-facing and business-facing universities,
global players and locally-relevant actors, or between teaching
and research institutions. This detracts from more developed understandings
There is an existing concentration of resources
that favours centres of expertise across England. Further concentration
could result in regions, cities and their universities increasingly
vying for the same pots of money and thematic specialisms leading
to duplication and few incentives for collaboration.
This could result in fragmentation and an increasing
differentiation between the research "haves" and "have
nots" in disciplinary, industrial, institutional and spatial
There are not only issues of equity at stake,
but inherent dangers in overconcentration, short-termism and a
"strangling" of more bottom-up areas of research opportunity.
2.5 A Way Forward?
To address these issues require careful consideration
through the following:
a greater understanding of the contribution
of different knowledges to economic, social and environmental
further analysis on how mechanisms for
knowledge exchange between the research base, industry and the
public sector differ across disciplines and sectors;
a more sophisticated awareness of
the potential win-wins between national and regional involvement
in science policy to bring excellence and relevance together;
the potential for more distributed,
networked and open forms of research and innovation to ensure
both excellence, relevance and address issues of institutional,
spatial and industrial concentration.
213 For further information, see http://www.surf.salford.ac.uk. Back
This includes in excess of 300 interviews over the past five years
with science and innovation stakeholders within European, national
and sub-national tiers of governance, industry and higher education. Back
Perry, B and May, T (2006) Excellence, relevance and the university:
the "missing middle" in socio-economic engagement. Journal
of Higher Education in Africa, Vol 4, No 3, pp 69-92. Back
For instance, in relation to the location of the DIAMOND synchrotron
at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, our research highlighted opaque
policy processes and multiple lines of Government accountability.
ESRC Grant, "Making Science History? The Regionalisation
of Science Policy.", Award Number L144250004. Back
Marvin, S and May, T (2003) City Futures: Views from the Centre.
City. 7:2, 211-223. Back