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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 203)



  Q200  Mr Boswell: Can I then ask the other members of the panel whether they feel that there should be a specific regional tier in this debate up front as being a requirement for a rational science policy? Professor Edgerton.

  Professor Edgerton: To have a national science policy in the singular is an impossibility. We have the possibility of having many different kinds of science policies but a regional science policy is also an impossibility and to attempt to get one is undesirable. We should get away from the whole Haldane-oriented way of thinking about this and insisting that it is only because you have a national research council that you can achieve high quality. By suggesting that we should break the monopolies of the research councils—not all of them have a monopoly, the Medical Research Council does not quite of course because of the Wellcome—and have a series of bodies, perhaps headquartered in different parts of the country that compete with each other to generate the best quality research, that take not just a national view but an international as well as a regional view; I think that will help us get away from the rather self-satisfied view the research councils sometimes take of their own endeavours and open that up to competition, to new thinking, to genuine debate. It would be very difficult for a research council in, let us say, Leicester to fund work in Manchester, but if they are held to account on the basis of the quality of the research they will do it.

  Q201  Mr Boswell: Any views from Nick or Professor Charles on that?

  Mr Dusic: The UK-wide research councils provide a really strong benefit for the country and that should remain. One of the things we are having to look at, because of devolution, is regional science funding coming through the different funding councils. It is therefore a different landscape that we are doing science policy in and that needs to be respected and understood. DIUS understands that but it needs to have a UK-wide focus and an England-only focus as well. Maybe the Council for Science and Technology which has a UK focus could be looking at the science policies across the UK, looking at how they develop and how they interact and challenge both the UK Government and devolved administrations to make sure they are up to scratch.

  Q202  Chairman: The last word from you, Professor Charles.

  Professor Charles: There is often a problem in this country in that we associate regional with not being the same as excellent; there is often an assumption that what happens in the regions is by definition of lower quality—it goes back to the RAE where we talk about sub-national quality, national quality and international quality. We need to move away from that, we need to be focused on excellence and international quality everywhere but recognise that in different regions there may be different areas of excellence, different areas of opportunity for exploitation of science and technology and, therefore, we might need to have a variety of different objectives and priorities.

  Q203  Mr Boswell: My final question is could there be some difference in weighting within regions or between regions as to whether they were pure science or had a strong element of regional industrial nexus policy?

  Professor Charles: It is inevitable that there might emerge a different focus. If you allowed the scientist base in the regions to identify their areas of research you would get a different pattern emerging no doubt, and if there was an institutional base in the region that could identify what the priorities might be they would possibly look different. Until we go down the route of this exercise and actually try to build a debate at a regional scale, to see how that might relate to a national science policy—and indeed to the policies that are emerging from the EU—we do not really know what that would look like.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I am sorry we have overrun on your session but it has been really good. Thank you very much indeed Professor Adrian Smith, Nick Dusic, Professor David Edgerton and Professor David Charles.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 23 July 2009