Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
MONDAY 16 MARCH 2009
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 councilsnot all of them
have a monopoly, the Medical Research Council does not quite of
course because of the Wellcomeand 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
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 qualityit
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 policyand indeed to the policies that
are emerging from the EUwe 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.