Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

To be published as HC 806-ii

House of COMMONS





Wednesday 16 March 2011

Professor Phil Allport, Professor Mike Bode, Professor Robert C. Kennicutt, JR., Professor John Peacock, Professor Steve Rawlings and Professor Andrei Seryi

Professor Keith Mason and Sir Adrian Smith

Evidence heard in Public Questions 87 - 170



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 16 March 2011

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Gavin Barwell

Stephen Metcalfe

David Morris

Stephen Mosley

Pamela Nash

Graham Stringer

Roger Williams


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Phil Allport, Head of Particle Physics and Director of the Liverpool Semiconductor Detector Centre, University of Liverpool, Professor Mike Bode, Director of the Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, Professor Robert C. Kennicutt, Jr., Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy Director, Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Professor John Peacock, Head of the Institute of Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Professor Steve Rawlings, sub-Department of Astrophysics, Oxford University, and Professor Andrei Seryi, Director, John Adams Institute for Accelerator Science, gave evidence.

Q87 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for attending. With a panel of six, we have to be careful so that we do not end up repeating each other. At the end of today, if you feel that there is any additional information you want to feed in that you have not have a chance to comment on in what is quite a tight session, please feel free to write to us again. I know some of you, of course, but, for the record, I would be grateful if you would say who you are and where you are from.

Professor Allport: I am Phil Allport from the university of Liverpool. I am a particle physicist.

Professor Bode: I am Mike Bode from the Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores university.

Professor Kennicutt: I am Rob Kennicutt from the university of Cambridge. I am the Director of the Institute of Astronomy.

Professor Peacock: I am John Peacock. I am the Head of the Institute for Astronomy, university of Edinburgh.

Professor Rawlings: I am Steve Rawlings from the university of Oxford.

Professor Seryi: I am Andrei Seryi, the Director of the John Adams Institute for Accelerator Science.

Q88 Chair: As you know, we are looking into the broader issues to do with particle physics and astronomy and the support for it in the country. We have had a number of extremely interesting sessions so far, not least with six young people who performed brilliantly last week and set the stage for today. Now we are into some of the difficult relationships between the various parts of the community and the STFC. Relations with the chief executive and the STFC have been, to say the least, a little bit difficult since 2007. Some of the evidence we have had suggests that things are getting better. Is it now time to turn over a new leaf and move on?

Professor Peacock: Let me begin by thanking you for the chance to be here today. We know we are very lucky to work in inspiring subjects like astronomy and particle physics, and we don’t want to come across as ungrateful, but the fact is that the committee has been very unhappy since the formation of the STFC and the Comprehensive Spending Review at the end of 2007. We have seen massive cuts. Domestic spend in astronomy is heading to be down by almost a factor of two compared to what it used to be. That is bad enough, but it was felt almost universally that the STFC was not explaining to us how these cuts had come about. It was making decisions about what cuts would be implemented without consulting the community. That is a terribly low base to be starting from.

From that point of view, things have got better. A new network of consultative committees was set up; so the cuts have been decided in a democratic and consultative way. We have just had the next Comprehensive Spending Review settlement, which was less bad than many people feared. Overall, clearly, things have improved.

It should also be said, though, that a lot of these improvements are generally perceived as having been implemented by senior staff in the STFC or members of the STFC council. When you look at the issue that you referred to right at the start, the culture at the top of the STFC that comes from the chief executive, there is still deep unhappiness. You could speak of a breakdown of trust that has developed and hasn’t really changed.

Q89 Chair: In your evidence, you use phrases l ike "’inward-looking", "focuses on its own ‘in-house’ research facilities" and "treating academia as a ‘secondary tier of its business’." What can be done to rectify th at ?

Professor Peacock: These things are going to have to be addressed by the next chief executive.

Professor Allport: I would echo what John has just said. The things that have been positive in the preparation, for example, of the Comprehensive Spending Review and its aftermath, particularly through a sub-committee of council working with the chief executive, are that there was much more communication with the various communities. The process of preparing the CSR was something that the communities felt they owned much more than has been true previously and certainly wasn’t the case in 2007.

The other thing is that, particularly through the chief operating officer and the director of programmes, there has been a lot of communication after the event with the communities, discussions about what the possible implications are and some genuine debate about how one tries to move forward, given a settlement which, compared with 2007 and the environment we were in, was towards the top end of what one could reasonably have hoped for in what has been a very difficult spending round, which we fully appreciate.

Professor Bode: There is no doubt that the chief exec’s job is an incredibly tough and demanding one. The STFC is an exceptionally complex organisation. There is a lot of tension between the basic science, for example, and running facilities that service other communities, the campus ventures and all those other things. There is a perception in the community that there has been a disconnect between the level that Phil was talking about in the STFC, who have been interacting with the community, and the chief executive. The perception is-I am sure we will hear more about this later on, and members of the Committee may know more about this and the way this works-that the chief executive has been more upward facing into Government, which is obviously a vital role of the chief exec, but he has not been pushing the basic science as much as the other parts of the STFC community would have wanted.

Q90 Chair: Professor Kennicutt, in your evidence you suggested that there is a "leadership vacuum". What are your expectations of the leader of the STFC? Are there particular things that you hope the next chief executive will do differently?

Professor Kennicutt: That is a good question. On the second part of the question, in fact, the STFC charged a working group to define the desirable list of traits for the next chief executive. I believe that committee was chaired by Marshall Davies and the report was issued in November. It is an excellent document of which we are aware and I would concur with it. In terms of my own outlook, part of the reason that the job is so challenging is that unlike councils in many other countries-for example, in the United States, where I worked for many years-the entire process of community consultation, prioritisation and implementation of decisions was all done within the research council, unlike the US, where you have an entirely parallel set of prioritisations done by the National Research Council, which reports directly to the US Congress.

My colleagues here ask me about this often. I think the system here is much more efficient and it is the preferred system when you have strong leadership, but for it to work you need someone with a scientific background who understands the broad spectrum of issues. You need a process from the council on down that is utterly beyond repute in terms of conflict of interest, in which consultation is an apt development and in which there is accountability in terms of the feedback between the community and the executive. I realise those are somewhat general qualities.

Q91 Chair: But, for that to work, there would have to be almost total transparency in the process.

Professor Kennicutt: That is right. Of course, you cannot have complete democracy, especially in a difficult spending environment like this. We understand that.

Professor Rawlings: It might be important to analyse why the changes that have happened recently have been successful. I do not want our community to come across as a bunch of whingers. We are very appreciative of the changes that have happened. We all agree on this committee that the outcome of the spending review 2010 was as good as we could expect. So, clearly, lessons have been learnt. We appreciate that at the start of the STFC there were probably peculiar problems that have worked through the system. An analysis of how that has changed would be very positive for appointing the right person to the next chief executive role.

Q92 Pamela Nash: We are aware on the Committee that the numbers of studentships and grants that have been awarded by the STFC have decreased quite significantly over the last few years. Have any of you seen any evidence that this has put off young researchers from staying in the UK or, indeed, coming into the UK to conduct their research?

Professor Allport: Yes. I can speak, perhaps, first for particle physics. One of our postdocs carried out a survey at CERN of those who are currently still employed in particle physics. He found that for those who got their PhD before 2007, three quarters of them, when they were looking for jobs, had been made offers in the UK. For those whose PhDs were after 2007, that number has fallen to a third. The anecdotes are that of this year’s crop, almost everybody who is staying in the field is doing so by taking posts outside the UK. That does feed back into people’s expectations. Certainly, in the last round of student interviewing that I was involved in for PhDs, a number of people were expressing concerns about the prospects for careers at the end of the process. It is having an effect and it is dissuading people from going through a process that I, personally, feel provides a very broad training and often leads into areas that are quite diverse from those in which the PhD is taken.

Q93 Chair: Is that data in a form to which we could have access?

Professor Allport: Yes. I can give you the web page produced by Paul Laycock, who carried out the survey at CERN. It is low statistics and it is, of course, a sample of those who responded largely from within CERN. One should not treat it as being something that would stand up in a proper statistical analysis, but it is indicative.

Professor Peacock: I would like to try and clarify something. You mentioned studentships and postgraduate training. There is a PhD funded by studentships and then many of those people will want to go into postdoctoral positions to refine their skills further. So the number of places for PhD studentships has been maintained and that is very good. The problem now is that the postdoctoral fellowships or research assistantships, which are the next step, have been slashed by a factor of two. In many cases, the best people for the next generation are having great difficulty finding jobs.

I see this in my own institute. Some of our best students struggle to find a position. Their options are to go abroad or to leave the subject. Going abroad is not so straightforward because the PhD system here is different. It is shorter. Really, in a way, a few years of postdoctoral research is needed to round off people’s education. It is not trivial, even if we wanted to see all our best people go off to Germany to work, for them to be able to do that. There is a missing generation in danger of developing.

Professor Kennicutt: To reinforce what John has just said, studentships in astronomy may have declined very slightly but the number of postdoctoral positions over a decade has dropped by about a half, I believe. Our concern on this point is the impact this will have. Since there is a delay on impacting the career plans of the PhD students, we haven’t seen an impact yet on incoming students. Our fear, of course, is that, if this situation persists, the best and brightest will begin to look to fields other than particle physics and astronomy.

Professor Rawlings: It is also the case of our international reputation. If we could achieve a stable funding environment in this country, that would be great not only for our own students but also for making sure that we attract the most talented people from around the world to come and work in postdoctoral positions. International reputation and stability of funding go together and are very important in this area.

Professor Bode: As well as the postdocs that have declined, the fellowships, which is the natural next stage, have declined as well. The typical career path, which probably most of us followed, is that you go through a PhD, then a postdoc and very often time abroad, which is actually very valuable, but then come back, very often into a fellowship position, which is like a parking orbit for a lectureship in a university. But the fellowships have been reduced considerably as well.

Q94 Pamela Nash: My question was about whether we are losing researchers to other countries. From the responses that you have given me, can I clarify that you think we are losing some researchers to other subjects outside what the STFC is funding?

Professor Kennicutt: Historically, only a fraction of astronomy PhDs stay in astronomy. In fact, we send people to the City, finance, banks and medical spheres. That is considered a good thing, of course. We don’t want to change that.

Professor Rawlings: But also into industry and across the economy.

Professor Kennicutt: High tech is the other one.

Professor Peacock: In truth, it is hard to answer because there are big fluctuations from year to year, which nobody really understands. In one year you can have almost twice the number of good applicants and you can’t see what has changed. So it will take a while for a pattern to become clear. At the moment all we have is fear, but there are good grounds for it.

Professor Kennicutt: The worry is that the Stephen Hawkings of the future, who are coming up as undergraduates, will move away from the subject, from their chosen research field, in the end, if they fear there is not a job for them. That is the concern.

Q95 Pamela Nash: You have all expressed very real concerns about this. Given the financial climate that we are in and the funding constraints that the STFC is experiencing at the moment, do you think that they should concentrate their funding on teaching and researchers at the moment, even if that is at the expense of other necessities?

Professor Peacock: This is hard. You have to feel big sympathy for the people who have to do this juggling, and perhaps gratitude that it is not your own responsibility, because the facilities that STFC deals with are big, monolithic things, and you don’t have the control that you would like.

We are a member of this European Treaty organisation-the European Southern Observatory. If we all had our wish, we would just turn a knob and say, "Look, let’s make that 10% cheaper and we will put the money saved into these postdoctoral research positions." It is absolutely clear that it is the investment in the young researchers that has made UK astronomy and particle physics world class. I know plenty of Americans who looked at us with envy in the sense that we have been able, to use the old cliché, to punch above our weight and extract the maximum scientific value from our facilities by funding the people who actually did the science. The fact that that has been cut by a factor of two is a disaster, and we would like to build it back, but we can’t just change what we pay to ESO. The ESO subscription is set as a fraction of GDP. Ultimately, you can say that the problem is that the UK is not investing in scientific research pro rata to its GDP at the level of our competitors. Our figure is 1.8%. In Germany, it is something like 2.5%. If that disparity remains, there is always going to be this problem.

Professor Bode: There has been one positive aspect to things recently, in that the grants line from which most of those postdocs originate has been ring-fenced. It is now protected in the Delivery Plan. It should not, therefore, be used as what has been termed "the balancing line" because it is the one part of the cash that is more easily raided-perhaps that is the wrong word-or to balance things up. As John was saying, you have commitments that you can’t get out of. The facilities we have now are all very highly ranked. We have now, at least, some guarantee of the funds within the grants line being maintained, although being eroded, presumably, by inflation. One would look to the future, when times get better, as they will do, but one would aspire, as John was saying, to an uplift overall for science in the UK to try and match the investment of our competitor nations. When the uplift comes, the community would prioritise grants very highly and that should be where additional cash should first go. I am sure other colleagues can comment.

Professor Rawlings: That is right, but these young people, the postdocs, always must have access to world class facilities. There is always that tension. To reiterate John’s point, maybe the deep underlying problem here is the fact that we are only spending 1.8% of our GDP on R and D, whereas other developed countries are spending a larger amount. That may be the solution to this problem in the long term.

Professor Peacock: It is a long-term solution. In the medium term, I think the STFC still does have some wriggle room. We would like to see it prioritise grants more than it does.

Professor Allport: If you go back to 2005 in the days of DIUS, there was a White Paper which clearly set the ambition to get to 2.5% of GDP. Given that we will not be, we hope, in recession for ever, to have an ambition like that again would send a very positive message out to young people who were thinking of moving into STEM science areas. To look at the re-balancing, this is clearly part of the nearly impossible job that the chief executive and those in charge of the STFC have to manage. It is an over-constraint problem. In my area, if we pull out of CERN, then you, basically, would just shut the door on particle physics as a subject. There has been very tough negotiation. Not only has the CERN subscription been kept fairly constant, but in Swiss francs it has been brought down. Unfortunately, the currency exchanges take things in the other direction. A very tight lid is being kept on the subscriptions, so I do not know that there is too much scope for pushing the subscriptions down much further without starting to damage the facilities to which the students need to have access.

Q96 Roger Williams: Much has been made of the fact that resource funding is going to be maintained in cash values, at least, in the medium term, but probably less emphasis has been put on the fairly substantial cuts in capital expenditure. Professor Mason told us in January that there had been an over-investment in astronomy in the last 10 years, particularly since joining the European Southern Observatory. Do you recognise that, or what is your response to that?

Professor Peacock: A pulse of money went into UK astronomy which was always intended to be temporary. When we joined ESO, we immediately had access to their telescopes that had been created over decades. As well as paying your annual subscription, there was a back payment to buy our share of ownership of those things. Even in 2002, when this happened, you could see a spreadsheet where there was this pulse of several millions a year, which, yes, was over-investment, and it was scheduled to stop about now and it has. The idea that because we joined ESO, we did not need any of our other telescopes is just not the case. In fact, because we joined ESO, I believe that we need our other telescopes more. We want to be the best in the world in this subject, and how can you be that if you just have exactly the same facilities as all your competitors? We need something that gives us an additional edge, and that is why we felt that joining ESO stopped the Europeans taking over, but we needed that to add to what we already had.

Professor Rawlings: As a community, we are willing to give things up, as has been demonstrated by the peer review process that Rob Kennicutt was a central part of, that has resulted in the UK pulling out of Gemini, which was a fantastic facility in both the northern and southern Hemispheres. We understand the realities of the environment in which we are working and we can prioritise.

Professor Kennicutt: Gemini will realise a saving of £8 million per year eventually once the phase-out is completed to the Treasury’s approval. At about the time we joined ESO, the Royal Greenwich Observatory was closed. That is a saving of more than £6.5 million, I believe, a year. We withdrew from the Anglo-Australian Telescope, which has saved nearly £2 million a year. Partly through skilled negotiation by the STFC, the costs of many other ongoing facilities are being ramped down. It is important, as I believe someone asked last week in questioning Professor Davies, that we don’t want to have our cake and eat it too. We are prepared to close this or even withdraw from facilities. I think the issues that have been raised are more about process and prioritisation in how that is done.

Professor Peacock: On this issue of over-investment-let me just emphasise it again-until the financial crisis was associated with the formation of the STFC, there was no intention to wind things down. You can look at the planning spreadsheets that have ESO and Gemini on them. There used to be enough money for these and there was a scientific rationale for all of them, but now we have had to make painful choices. The idea that you always knew that this had to happen has no basis.

Q97 Roger Williams: Nevertheless, one of the panel members said that, if we are going to have talented young scientists, then we must have the best facilities for them. Yet it looks like the capital grants to universities will more than halve. Will there be enough facilities of the necessary standard in universities to carry out these projects and attract these young people?

Professor Kennicutt: Some of us addressed this question in written evidence. Certainly, I have a number of concerns, as does the community. A lot of this money goes for building instruments on telescopes. Of course, that funds instrumentation groups that have some of the strongest connections to industry in the UK and enables us to compete in European projects for instruments. Equally so, the kit they are building and the instruments that come out can expand the capabilities of these telescopes extraordinarily. As one example, I know that the William Herschel Telescope has come up a number of times. There is a proposal afoot to build a spectrometer that can obtain spectra for not one object at a time, which is what the Herschel Telescope could do when it was built, but in fact to measure hundreds or maybe even thousands of objects at a time, so you can literally realise with a relatively low-cost instrument an increase in the capability of the telescope for their application of 100 or 1,000 times. So it is a win-win situation. Indeed, that funding is being squeezed, and there will be detrimental consequences in both of those areas.

Professor Rawlings: It is worrying for the variety of things it covers. For example, our theoretical colleagues require high performance computing. That is also counted as a capital expenditure. Of course, without the theoretical part to add to the observational part, we are not doing our full job. There are serious worries about the level of capital funding.

Q98 Roger Williams: Is there any possibility that there could be other sources of this funding for universities?

Professor Allport: Yes. We are seeking pots from other research councils, for example, and applications go into the European Union, but many of these bodies are looking at grant applications and saying, depending on the topic, "Shouldn’t this be being funded from the core source for particle physics and astronomy funding in your country?"

In my area, which is particle physics, we do a lot of detector development in the UK. We have built quite significant parts of what has ended up in the major experiments at CERN. In fact, the UK has some very high leadership positions in all four experiments, which result from our contributions to the instrumentation. A lot of that instrumentation has other application areas. I am involved in grants, as many people here are, that go into other areas. Medical physics is a particularly strong one, both for detectors and, for that matter, accelerators.

My concern is that the ability within the universities to develop that sort of instrumentation, to take on students involved with that instrumentation, and even to train undergraduates with that instrumentation, will be impacted by these sorts of capital cuts. It will not only take the students away from having that contact with cutting-edge technology, which is vital to the training that we should be delivering, but the universities themselves are under pressure to deliver on an impact agenda, which becomes increasingly more difficult if we don’t have the in-house capabilities to be developing cutting-edge technologies. It is a double-edged sword in that respect.

The other thing that capital hits, of course, is in STFC’s supplementary information. You see how much the subscriptions are, to start off with. Roughly a third, in the case of CERN, was under the capital heading. That gets cut in two, which means that the resource for CERN has to go up by that corresponding £15 million from other places. Fortunately, because of the Wakeham review, it is not coming out of the grants line. You can see that the grants line is being maintained. The capital cuts are also impacting in more indirect ways through that mechanism as well.

Q99 Roger Williams: As I understand it, the capital funding is not only used for building new kit but maintaining the existing kit. What effect are cuts going to have on the existing facilities?

Professor Rawlings: That is, again, part of the worrying trend in terms of making sure that our young people and the whole community have access to world-class facilities. That always requires investment of that kind.

Professor Peacock: The thing is that you can get away with it for a while and you hope that nothing breaks, but it will eventually.

Professor Rawlings: Yes.

Professor Peacock: We can tolerate the situation for a few years.

Professor Seryi: Can I elaborate on this as well in terms of the impact of the capital cuts on facilities? We are certainly grateful that there is sufficient capital to fund the provision of facilities like the ISIS Neutron Source and the Diamond Light Source. This is fantastic. These are facilities that are running and producing great science right now. The lack of capital will impact on the ability to develop next generation facilities that will produce the future generation of science in many areas but also in areas of accelerator science research. So we are trying to develop new methods of how to create new facilities for the future. For this you need various test facilities, which could be small. Those in existence and those new are impacted by a lack of capital. This propagates to impact on trying to attract the best researchers and students as well.

Chair: We are moving on to that in a bit more detail.

Q100 Gavin Barwell: My questions are principally for Professors Allport and Seryi. What do you think the impact of the capital settlement will be on the prospects for the UK ’s future involvement in post-LHC particle accelerators?

Professor Allport: I think we should both answer because we will be answering from a different perspective. I will be answering from the perspective of an experimental particle physicist who is largely involved in the detector side of things. The first phase in the future within CERN will be the high luminosity operation in the next decade of the LHC. Beyond that there are a number of options, all of which require development of novel technologies.

There are directions which go in terms of the Linear Collider. There are directions which go in terms of the ep collider. There are directions in terms of trying-it looks like a proof of principle, but one can do it-to double the energy of the LHC in the current ring. Then there are a large number of other facilities around the world which tend to concentrate on doing very high statistics experiments and, therefore, require extremely high intensity beams for neutrinos, muon storage rings, E plus or E minus for B-factories and so on.

Two things are very important. One is getting to these very high energy gradients, which I am sure you will hear have a range of applications, but the other is developing very high intensity sources. Again, this is not something that just supports our programme in particle physics. It turns out to be very important in a wide range of other sciences to push at that frontier as well. That is an experimenter’s perspective. I do not know if you want the accelerator expert’s perspective now.

Professor Seryi: I can continue to discuss this project. I believe that there will be a rather serious impact on our ability to contribute to this future generation of projects. A number of them are planned in Europe and the US. From the point of view of accelerator science, indeed, we are trying to develop various methods of how to make future accelerators and colliders better, smaller and less expensive. For this, we need research developments for attracting students and capital funds to make small test facilities. All these are essential components. I really worry about our ability to contribute significantly to these future projects which are aimed at discovery science, like high energy physics and so on, but also I worry about our ability to contribute noticeably to applications of accelerators which are beyond discovery science, which are applications for energy security, nuclear energy security, health, engineering and to developing all the facilities which will be needed everywhere in addition to discovery science.

Q101 Gavin Barwell: In the evidence we have had and, indeed, in the evidence last week, concern was expressed about the shift by the STFC towards focusing research on technology, instrumentation and detector development in-house. Can you say a bit more about what impact you think that will have on R and D work in universities?

Professor Allport: To some extent I am repeating a point I made before, so I apologise. If you go in that direction, what has existed before has been a relationship between the national labs and the universities, which has developed over a very long time, which has got the balance right in terms of what is done within the universities in terms of R and D, in terms of prototyping and in terms of also some significant instrument delivery. Quite a lot of the tracking detectors in the LHC experiments were built in the university sector. On the other hand, you have specialisms in the national labs and it doesn’t make sense to employ somebody in the university to do those because those skills for a particular project won’t be needed continuously. One example is the design of microelectronic circuits, which is something that is particularly focused on the microelectronics group within the Rutherford Laboratory. There are complementarities there.

As I was saying before, the key thing about having high-tech capabilities and high- tech activities – we are involved in some world-leading instrumentation development in the UK universities-is that it provides a very vibrant training environment for PhD students, particularly those whose focus is going to be more towards technology than, if you like, the more scientific end. We have quite a few students who come through the system using the CASE scheme, which means that they are linked already with a UK company as they come into the department. The sort of training that we can provide for them is critically dependent on us being in world-leading areas of technology and giving those students skills that will make them very competitive, but also from the point of view of the companies that are working with us, they don’t want to work with somebody who is second rate. They want to work with somebody who really is first rate.

Professor Rawlings: This is not a peculiarity of particle physics.

Professor Allport: No, it certainly isn’t.

Professor Rawlings: If our nuclear physics colleagues were here, they would say the same thing, and also in astronomy. Professor Davies last week mentioned terahertz imaging, which is obviously used in body scanners. That is technology that is often spinning out from radio astronomy. It is extremely important to keep all of this capability in the universities where there are unique skills and where, often, the young people coming through will get the training in those technologies.

Professor Peacock: I would like to add to that briefly and I need to declare an interest here. We have the model right in Edinburgh because the STFC has one of its laboratories there-the UK Astronomy Technology Centre-and it is embedded within the university, so there is no danger that it does things outside of an academic context. It is able to benefit from all the intellectual innovation of a university environment and yet do its own technological work as well. The danger of separating those two is very great, I fear.

Professor Rawlings: I don’t think that geographical separation is the key point. As Phil has said, in particle physics there is great collaboration with RAL, which is a long way geographically from Liverpool.

Professor Allport: Yes, and long may it continue. It does require having a strong home in-house capability. Nuclear physics are not represented here, but our colleagues in nuclear physics do a lot of instrumentation development that is very closely linked to nuclear medicine. Many of them hold grants in both nuclear science and in nuclear medicine areas, and they are developing the next generation of PET scanners and things like that. If that were not happening in the universities, I am afraid my own opinion is that it probably would not be happening either at all or certainly not to the level that it is at the moment.

Q102 Gavin Barwell: Can I just press you on this point? In answering questions from the Chairman at the start of the session, you said that relationships had improved, and in relation to taking the difficult prioritisation decisions that have had to be taken, given the financial backdrop, that had worked better this time. Does the academic community support this decision that, in the financial environment we are in, that technology, instrumentation and detector development should just be done in-house by the STFC? Is that something that people have reluctantly accepted or are you saying that you are opposed to that?

Professor Allport: No, I am strongly opposed to that. To go down that path will not only hugely reduce the UK’s capability and standing, but it will divorce, in a way that would make us completely anomalous internationally, the instrument builders from the people who use the instrumentation. As somebody who is a detector physicist, without having a foot in both camps, I can say that it would be almost impossible to be involved at the international level that we are, for example, leading in the upgrades of both the ATLAS and CMS experiments from the UK. They are both university people who are in those leadership positions, and they are in those leadership positions because they are able to integrate closely with what the requirements are and have the detailed knowledge of the technologies to be able to marry the two together.

If you try a model that says you draw up a specification and somebody else goes and builds it, my specification is that a detector has to be zero mass; it has to have no noise; it has to have infinite signal; it has to generate no power, etcetera. Of course, that is a useless starting point for any discussion. Any detector that you develop is a compromise between what the key parameters are and what is technologically possible, and that can only happen if you have a foot in both camps.

Professor Peacock: In astronomy, I cannot see why one would want to have that kind of concentration. The way to do this is to exploit the expertise that exists in universities by helping them, so individual university groups will have nuggets of expertise that cannot develop on their own. You need a central organisation that can pull them together and have traffic going in both directions. We have that at the moment, and I do not think that we necessarily want to break it.

Professor Rawlings: It is a collaborative thing that actually works. I don’t think anyone should be dogmatic about where technology is in place A and science is in place B. The reality is that, to do the science we need to do, you need innovative technologies and so you do need to mix and match these things.

Professor Kennicutt: I think your question really highlights the fact that one of the key challenges of managing this council is its structure because, on the one hand, it is trying to support and promote its own laboratories and, at the same time, optimise the output of the universities as well. It would be a difficult job for anyone.

Q103 Gavin Barwell: It is a difficult balance to get right.

Professor Kennicutt: It is one of the things you look for in the next CEO.

Q104 Gavin Barwell: You have made the point. You have put your views on record very clearly. I have one final question specifically on particle physics. In evidence to this Committee last week, the President of the Institute of Physics said that she felt that within the field of particle physics the STFC was concentrating all its eggs in one basket and that more of the money should go outside of the CERN project. Is that something that you would agree with?

Professor Allport: It should even go outside the projects which are funded within CERN. If you look at some of the evidence that has been submitted, you will see that, with the prioritisation process, you almost inevitably end up with a correlation of high cost, high priority and low cost, low priority. The prioritisation process in the way that it has been executed does need to be a little bit more nuanced, because we now see in the submissions that there is a clear budget line.

If one were to take a budget and say, "How do I best fit a programme into it?", then one could do the high priority, high cost, but also try and get the Alpha 2s and 3s-Alpha 2 or Alpha 3 means that this is excellent international science-and try and get those low cost projects into the envelope so that you have a wider portfolio. This requires a different style of managing the science within each science area. It is more subtle than taking a priority listing and then saying, "Everything less than Alpha 3 gets cut." There is room, even within a constrained budget, for trying to broaden the programme, but it requires some different methodology to achieve that.

Q105 Stephen Metcalfe: I would like to return, if I may, to the proposal to withdraw from ground-based northern Hemisphere facilities. How important is it to have access to those facilities for our UK researchers and astronomers?

Professor Kennicutt: I guess that is mine. This was one of the issues, front and centre, in the Ground-based Facilities Review in 2009, which advised the STFC. The decision to rank Gemini low, knowing that that would probably lead to other problems, was a difficult one, but we made it on the basis of cost-effectiveness. The impact, as background, was to remove a major northern Hemisphere 8 metre telescope. In that report we argued quite strongly that to mitigate, should we withdraw from Gemini, that would create an even stronger need for the remaining facilities in the north.

For example, the William Herschel Telescope, out of the 25 facilities, I believe it was, that we prioritised, was ranked fourth in that review. So it is important. It not only offers access to the 40% of the sky you can’t see in the south but many of the instruments are unique on La Palma and Hawaii. There are many complementary capabilities, such as the white field imagers, spectrometers and so on, that can very effectively do science as effectively as you could with a much larger telescope that you clearly wouldn’t want to spend the time on. The cost is low. For the three telescopes on La Palma-I don’t have the exact figures-it is about £1 million current spend compared to the £5 million to £6 million that you save from Gemini. It is a very important capability at a relatively low cost that we believe so strongly should be maintained.

Q106 Stephen Metcalfe: So you are saying that the cost of the facilities at La Palma is around £1 million. We were told it was £2 million to £3 million last week, which we thought was very reasonable. If it is only £1 million, why are we even considering not carrying on with that facility?

Professor Kennicutt: First of all, I also read Roger Davies’s testimony and the £2 million to £3 million. I only read the transcript that was released yesterday so I was not able to touch base. I believe that he was including some capital cost of instrumentation to enhance the facilities. The number I gave was just the maintenance cost. It may have included some of the Hawaii facility time as well.

Professor Peacock: The specific number on Hawaii I can certainly give you. Exactly £3 million are the running costs for the two telescopes: the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the UK Infrared Telescope on Hawaii. That is also coming down because we are doing partnership deals on the UK Infrared Telescope with the Koreans. So there is the scope to keep these things going with economies. The staff of these observatories should be congratulated on what a good job they have done in that regard of keeping the science flowing for less money. We can sell off a bit of it. But the reason they have to stay is that it lets us get value out of the big things. If we have some unique piece of instrumentation on, say, the Herschel Telescope or UKIRT, we have access to a project and we can then go to ESO and say, "We want to use the ESO telescopes to follow this up." If nobody else in Europe can do it, it gets us better value for our ESO subscription. If you take away these small facilities, we have nothing special to bring to the table.

Q107 Stephen Metcalfe: If you had to prioritise one of those smaller northern Hemisphere ground-based facilities, which one would you prioritise?

Professor Kennicutt: That is a difficult question. In the Ground-based Review we attempted to split hairs, but in hindsight the problem with that argument is that there are fixed infrastructure costs on these remote mountain top facilities. So, even though I don’t know what the book value of the Liverpool Telescope is now, if you were to book-let’s just pull a number out-£0.25 million of savings, you actually wouldn’t save nearly that amount because you would still have the fixed costs. On the one hand, the cost-effectiveness of these is really in the total. If you want to close something, of course, the argument works the other way. You then fall on a slippery slope where soon you have to close an entire mountain-top facility to realise savings. That is what we are trying to avoid.

Professor Peacock: The answer is that, if pressed to choose between them, we would say we do not accept that as a valid question. We would choose to squeeze the costs further, to seek further partnership deals, because both of these small things have important roles. A few million pounds a year is a lot of money, but in the context of the STFC’s budget it is not.

Professor Rawlings: I think there might be a bit of confusion here. There are northern Hemisphere optical telescopes. We have heard about La Palma and UKIRT, which is a near infrared, effectively, optical telescope in Hawaii. The actual cost of running UKIRT in Hawaii is extremely low, much lower than the number that you might have inferred from what John said, because it is run alongside a sub-millimetre telescope, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope. There are also the northern radio telescopes. e-MERLIN, in our own country, is a world-leading facility.

One has to be a little bit careful about whether you are talking about northern observatories or northern optical observatories. The argument for the northern optical observatories is their value for money. Due to the STFC’s management of what is going on but also the incredible management of those facilities by the people who have been asked to make major cuts, they just are spectacularly good value for money. I speak as someone who has just been out to use the William Hershel Telescope to observe objects that were detected by the Herschel Space Observatory. That is an example of where we are getting this extra international leadership.

Professor Kennicutt: Those low costs that I cited were not the costs a few years ago. They have been negotiated down creatively, to the credit of both the STFC and the managers of those observatories.

Professor Bode: So it is a combination of driving the costs down and bringing in additional partners as well. To give some surety on bringing in those additional partners, you still need to have some baseline funding from the STFC into the future because those additional partners want to see that the whole show is going to be on the road while they are funding part of it.

The other thing I should just add to what Steve was saying is that those northern Hemisphere radio observatories work in a complementary way to the northern Hemisphere Optical Infrared observatories. There is, obviously, e-MERLIN. There is a project that the Dutch lead called LOFAR, which is another radio observatory working on a new part of the spectrum, effectively. The UK has a significant interest in that. There is a new LOFAR station in the UK, for example. For those reasons and all the scientific reasons that have been pointed out in the submissions and the evidence by Professor Davies and Professor Bell-Burnell last week, the northern Hemisphere access is vital to the health of the community and to the future.

Q108 Stephen Metcalfe: When you talk about additional partners, do you mean industry?

Professor Bode: No, not necessarily. I mean international partners, partnerships through EU grants that have been given to individuals and institutions that buy out time on telescopes, and UKIRT is an example that the Koreans bought into.

Q109 Stephen Metcalfe: But could industry be an alternative source for this funding?

Professor Rawlings: That depends on the project. In the northern Hemisphere optical observatories-correct me if I am wrong-they are probably an unlikely partner in that sort of endeavour. For example, in radio astronomy, which I work in, we are very actively engaging with industry to try and develop facilities for the future. Again, it is a slightly complicated picture.

Professor Bode: There is a possibility of a commercial partnership to do with something we will probably talk about later on, which is the National Schools Observatory in terms of time on the Liverpool Telescope, but that would be rather unusual in this context.

Professor Kennicutt: There is one other specific example. This issue of access to northern Hemisphere facilities and small telescope facilities is recognised at the European level. There is a European funded network called Opticon, which is engaging in a study of how the major European players, mainly ESO members, can collaborate in operation and time allocation on these. They are issuing a series of reports. Over the long term, the answer is probably to collaborate. That not only will spread the cost over a larger base but will tap European Research Council money to help defray the cost.

Professor Rawlings: That is certainly the plan for the European Extremely Large Optical Telescope as well. That is certainly something for the future.

Q110 Stephen Metcalfe: If we do not continue to play an active role in these facilities, do we have access to the observations, the data and the research that come out of them? Even though we are not directing it, do we have access to it?

Professor Peacock: Eventually, yes. It is almost universal now that observatories-this idea is driven by NASA as much as anything and the Hubble Space Telescope-have a duty to take the data and put it into the public domain. If you had any spare time, you could do astronomy with data from the William Herschel Telescope, but you don’t get it immediately. There is normally a cooling-off period of one to two years. Of course, that is critical. If your competitors have that head start, you won’t catch up.

Q111 David Morris: Gentlemen, c an the National Schools Observatory continue to operate without continued funding by the STFC of the Liverpool Telescope? Professor Mason suggested to us that there are "other partnerships and arrangements that one could make ." What could these be?

Professor Bode: I guess that is directed at me. I have a vested interest here. The NSO is intimately tied up with the operation of the LT. Right from the start, the LT was a science- driven project to provide a robotic telescope that could react very rapidly to things that changed in the sky and then observe things systematically for as long as is scientifically important. We realised right at the start of that project that we could engage schools in this because they could upload their observations into the same queue that professional astronomers’ observations are loaded into. Then we could distribute those things to schools with the appropriate software to analyse them. There is a symbiotic relationship between the LT and the NSO. They have grown up together and they are intimately related. The NSO relies on the functionality of the LT. Not only that but the NSO is there not just to train or encourage the next generation of astronomers. It is much broader than that. It is there to enthuse young people about the study of STEM subjects.

As we heard last week from those extremely eloquent young people who gave evidence to the Committee, one thing that they thought was very important was to see some linkage between what they were doing and research, that they wanted to be using cutting-edge instruments. With the LT, that is exactly what they are doing.

Could the NSO programme be moved on to another telescope? Within the STFC’s area, there is not another robotic, professional research telescope on an excellent site to which that could be moved. So could we find another telescope around? There are telescopes that we actually built in Liverpool. For example, the Faulkes Telescopes have a schools programme, but they are not even UK-owned. We would then have to buy out the time on other telescopes somewhere and integrate the NSO again into those telescopes. The most cost-effective way of doing this, to my mind, is to have the NSO with the LT and continue in that way. That depends on the future funding of the LT, of course.

Q112 David Morris: What level of funding would be required to ensure the continuation of the telescope at Liverpool?

Professor Bode: In relation to the Liverpool Telescope at the moment, our operational costs are partly from the university, but the majority of the costs come from the STFC. The costs at the moment from STFC are around £0.5 million a year. We have a planned programme of voluntary redundancies of some of the staff and efficiency savings that bring our costs down. We have a very active programme, like the other telescopes in the northern Hemisphere, of seeking additional partners. Our aim is to halve the STFC’s contribution over the next couple of years to about £250,000 a year. We think that is a realistic target for the operation of the LT.

As far as the NSO is concerned, the all-up cost to the NSO, if you include the overheads, heating, lighting and all those sorts of things, is £150,000 a year, roughly. That does not include the 5% telescope time that the university gives to that project. That is to keep the show on the road at that level. At the moment, that is underwritten by the university, but, obviously, times are tough for universities as much as for anybody else and the university has to prioritise that within its own budgets into the future. We would like to be reaching a much larger community. We reach something like 2,000 schools in the UK at the moment, predominantly secondary schools, which is a goodly fraction of all the secondary schools.

We have projects there that range, potentially, from languages and geography, through the sciences, etcetera, and we could extend it to primaries, too. We want to increase the number of schools and we want to increase the penetration that we have into schools. As we saw last week, if there is one thing that turns kids on, it is the science that is represented around this table.

Q113 Chair: Do you see it as part of the role of the STFC to support education programmes like that, or should they just spend resources on funding excellent research?

Professor Bode: The STFC’s chief executive was quite right when he said that the STFC’s primary remit is to support research. However, they also support outreach. I think the budget of the STFC for outreach-Science in Society, as it is now-is about £1.6 million a year. That has been reasonably protected, which is very good. About £400,000 of that goes into a central pot in the research councils. What you are then left with is a relatively small level of resource. The STFC’s Science in Society programme does a lot with that £1.2 million, but they have to prioritise like the rest of STFC. What they prioritise are new projects. The NSO has benefited from that new project funding in the past and, hopefully, will in the future, but, as far as something that will maintain the operation is concerned, at the moment that is not a priority of STFC’s Science in Society programme, as far as I understand it. Maybe that should change or maybe there are other ways of doing this.

One possibility, as I mentioned in the evidence, was more of a dialogue in the first instance between the STFC and the Department for Education, for example. We seem to fall between the stools. It would be very good for more of that type of partnership to be struck up. I saw in the Delivery Plan in the Science in Society section that they want to develop more partnerships. I may have missed it, but I didn’t see this as being one of them and maybe it should be.

Q114 Chair: Gentleman, thank you very much for some extremely useful evidence.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and Sir Adrian Smith, Director General, Knowledge and Innovation, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, gave evidence.

Q115 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. I do not have to rehearse with either of you the direction of this inquiry. What I would like to do to start with, Professor Mason, is to pick up where we left off with the immediately previous panel. Do you still see the future of the NSO as an "educational issue", or does some responsibility lie with the STFC?

Professor Mason: First of all, I have to say the NSO is a really fantastic initiative, which I personally have supported since its inception. We do support the use of the Liverpool Telescope for research and will continue to do so for the next few years. In terms of the observatory use for education, we have schemes for public outreach for which things like the NSO can bid, they have bid and we have supported them in the past. We will continue to be open to that but, of course, that has to be done in competition with other bids.

Chair: Sure.

Professor Mason: We are primarily constituted to be a research-supporting organisation. The main responsibility for mainstream educational use has to lie with the appropriate authorities.

Q116 Chair: Have you had any discussions with the Department for Education about this?

Professor Mason: No, I have not, because the Liverpool Telescope and the NSO is not owned or operated by the STFC. It is the responsibility of Liverpool John Moores University. However, were Liverpool John Moores to ask me or the STFC to support a dialogue with the Department for Education, I would be more than happy to do so.

Q117 Chair: Sir Adrian, where do you see the boundary lying? Is it the responsibility of the Department for Education or the STFC? We are all agreed in this room about the importance of exciting young people about science. Where do you see the boundary line?

Sir Adrian Smith: In general terms, within BIS and our Science in Society funding, and in our encouragement of delivery plans with the research councils, we, obviously, have an interest in outreach and stimulating interest in the young, but that must be done appropriately within the terms of reference of individual bodies. The responsibility and ownership of this particular entity really lies with Liverpool John Moores University. As Keith Mason has said, if they were to make an approach for help, assistance or backing in terms of approaches to DfE, we would be more than happy to join in, but it is not the primary responsibility either of BIS or the STFC.

Q118 Chair: So it is not BIS and it’s not the STFC. The Department for Education hasn’t woken up to pick up the cudgels and run with it yet. Have you discussed it with your colleagues in the Department for Education?

Sir Adrian Smith: Down to the level of specific instances like this one, no, but we do have regular dialogues. Only last week or the week before, we had a high level dialogue with DfE on issues of mutual interest, including STEM education. A meeting is planned that will have two Ministers-Nick Gibb and David Willetts-involved with a group of people with primary front end interests actively in STEM education. There are plenty of fora to discuss the issues. As I say, it is not the remit and responsibility either of BIS or the STFC to run with a particular entity.

Q119 Chair: It may not be your responsibility, but it is part of your responsibility to help improve public understanding and engagement with science.

Sir Adrian Smith: Yes.

Q120 Chair: It is clear from the evidence we have heard, especially from the young people, that this is an effective tool. Therefore, isn’t it part of your responsibility to recognise that there is, as one witness said this morning, the possibility of this falling between two stools and doing something about it?

Sir Adrian Smith: The primary responsibility is with those with the responsibility and ownership to make approaches to us for help in conducting conversations. It is not our primary responsibility. The world of STEM out there is huge. It is not for us to get involved at that micro level in terms of total responsibilities. As Keith said very plainly, if they were to make an approach to him it would be treated with interest.

Q121 Graham Stringer: Last week and this week we have heard fairly compelling evidence, both on scientific and financial grounds, that it would be possible to keep access to the northern telescopes for our astronomers. Do you accept that evidence? You must have read our evidence session last week.

Professor Mason: We all agree that access to northern Hemisphere telescopes is not only good science but good value for money. But we are in a tight funding environment, and in that environment we are trying to find a way of maintaining access to the northern Hemisphere. One has to recognise that even an amount of £1 million is a significant sum. It has to be found from somewhere and traded off against, for example, funding postdocs in universities. It is very tricky.

Q122 Graham Stringer: It is a pure administration cost.

Professor Mason: Indeed.

Q123 Graham Stringer: We will come to postdocs later. There are other areas where relatively small sums can come from.

Professor Mason: Believe me, we are squeezing all of those areas in order to get the maximum amount of science out of them. The point is that it is a question of priorities and prioritisation. We accept that access to the northern Hemisphere is important and we are actively seeking ways of providing that access. Indeed, to be clear, we are maintaining support for the Hawaii Telescopes for more years than we previously believed we were able to do for that very reason, and we are actively seeking to provide some access to telescopes on La Palma. Those are negotiations in progress and they are not yet concluded, so it cannot be guaranteed. What we are doing, according to our long-term strategy, which I outlined when I saw you in January, is withdrawing from ownership of our telescopes on La Palma, but that does not mean that we cannot negotiate some access to those telescopes.

Q124 Graham Stringer: That sounds good. You, effectively, agree with what Professor Davies and Professor Bell-Burnell said to us last week, that access to these telescopes is important for the future of astronomy in this country, and you are trying to achieve that.

Professor Mason: Yes. Let me state it more broadly. Astronomy is important to this country and access to appropriate facilities goes part and parcel with that prominence. We have to operate within a constrained funding environment, as does every country, particularly in these times, and we have to prioritise. The clear advice that we have been given is that the top priority has to be world-class facilities and, particularly, the world-leading facilities that are provided through ESA, but that does not mean that we won’t seek to provide as much access as we can to supporting facilities. I wish we could do more. I wish we did not have to withdraw at all from La Palma. In an ideal world we would not, but it is a constrained environment and we have to make hard choices.

Q125 Graham Stringer: The real weight of the evidence we heard last week and again this morning was that, if you can’t look at all the sky and you are only looking at what you can see from the southern Hemisphere, it would be more difficult to attract the best astronomers from around the world coming to do astronomy here. You are actually detracting from first-class science if you can’t look at all the sky. Do you accept that?

Professor Mason: It would be more detrimental not to have access to the Extremely Large Telescope, for example, or the ALMA Telescopes, which are in the south, because they are absolutely cutting-edge, world-leading facilities. This is as much a scientific debate as a political debate, because a large fraction of astronomy research doesn’t care which hemisphere it’s in because it requires samples of a particular sort. There is a subset of astronomy, however, that does require access to particular objects in the north. Those are important, and we are seeking, as best we can, to provide the facilities to allow that sort of science to continue.

To come to the central part of your point, if we want to retain the excitement and encourage more people to come into astronomy, we have to be supporting and be involved in absolutely cutting-edge facilities like the ELT, ALMA, the Square Kilometre Array in the future and the VLT telescopes at ESA. They all happen to be in the southern Hemisphere.

The other factor in this is that astronomy facilities, as we become more sophisticated and want to push to more and better science, are becoming more and more expensive to the point where no nation will be able to support equal capability in both hemispheres. We have to make a choice.

Q126 Chair: The research councils found 20 times that sum to cope with the overrun on the shared services facility. We are talking about very small sums of money. Surely, that can be found.

Professor Mason: But that is what we are doing.

Q127 Chair: Do you think that £2 million to £3 million can be found?

Professor Mason: Yes. We are actively looking at how to do that, but it is a trade-off against other things and always has to be. As to "other things", it is easy to say that we have to find it in administration costs. Our baseline administration costs are being ramped down, in any case, so it is very hard to see how you can squeeze any more out of what is already a challenging situation. The unfortunate truth is that that £2 million to £3 million would have to come out of other areas that are scientifically productive. Therefore, we have to look to prioritise and we seek advice from our communities in doing that.

Q128 Stephen Mosley: I was interested on that last point. If you look at the figures, you are looking at about a £15 million reduction over the next couple of years. £9 million of that is already accounted for because it is the residual costs of joining the ESO, which expires in 2012. So you have got £9 million straightaway. The other £6 million is, effectively, Gemini, etcetera. From what you have said and from the numbers, it looks like you are not reducing your baseline costs at all.

Professor Mason: I am confused. Which baseline costs?

Stephen Mosley: The administration c osts, etcetera, of running the STFC.

Professor Mason: No. First of all, in the current spending review, the admin budget is ring-fenced in our allocation, so we cannot vie between them in any case. The admin budget that we have will suffer a reduction of something like 10% over four years, which we are meeting through efficiency gains. Admin is a red herring, in a sense, but what I can say to you is that we are looking for every possible way of getting more for less so that we can do more. One of these "mores" is access to the northern Hemisphere telescopes.

In the case of the Hawaii telescopes, we have found the savings to be able to continue operations at the JCMT for another two years. As previous witnesses have highlighted, we have substantially reduced the cost of operating our UKIRT telescope by finding efficiency savings so that we can continue to operate that. We are making very positive efforts in this regard. We are fully behind the community in saying, "Yes, this is important", and we are trying our best to fulfil their requirements.

Q129 Graham Stringer: Obviously, there are all these priorities and we are in a cash limited situation. You told us previously a number of things, one of which was that this was a strategic scientific decision to withdraw from the northern Hemisphere. You said we were over-investing in astronomy because of the initial costs in the NSO. What I am really trying to get to is this: we have heard that there are very strong scientific reasons for staying in the Northern Hemisphere, and I want to know whether it is just cash, which it seems to me that it is, or whether there really is a scientific strategy behind your policy.

Professor Mason: Maybe it would be helpful if I were to clarify the point about the strategy, which was not a scientific strategy but a financial strategy. Perhaps it would be helpful if I quoted to you from the papers that were looked at in 2001, on 5 December, from the PPARC Council meeting, concerning the accession to ESO. I will just read a little section here. It says: "Note that the above programme represents the first phase in re-shaping PPARC’s investment in ground-based astronomy facilities over the next decade. The long-term strategy will see PPARC withdraw from the AAT, JCMT, UKIRT and the ING by the end of the decade." So that was the financial strategy that PPARC adopted in 2001 as part of the arrangements for the affordability of entry into ESO.

In the meantime we have rowed back from that position as much as possible because it is scientifically desirable. As I have said, we have not withdrawn from JCMT and UKIRT by 2011, i.e. this year, which is what the original strategy foresaw, and we are making efforts to retain access to the telescopes on La Palma. We have withdrawn from the AAT, and that was completed in 2009. That was a financial strategy. It was one of affordability. Within the financial constraints we are trying to optimise the scientific strategy that we are pursuing.

Q130 Graham Stringer: I have two questions. One is that the administration is ring-fenced. Is that ring-fencing a Government ring fence or is it your own?

Professor Mason: It is a Government ring fence.

Q131 Graham Stringer: I think you have said that you wanted to find this money to keep access to the northern telescopes. If you are unable to do that, do you believe that there is any scope for UK industry providing that funding?

Professor Mason: I think that would be a relatively hard sell, unless one was able to do so on the back of generating novel instrumentation, which they would be directly interested in. UK industry is more interested in the cutting-edge developments that would flow, for example, from the Square Kilometre Array or the Extremely Large Telescope. Of course, we are engaged with them in promoting that. That is to the benefit of everybody.

Q132 Stephen Mosley: You have pretty much or partially answered the question I was going to ask, which is about this over-investment that we have had over the past decade. I know when we spoke to you in January that you mentioned it, but, when we heard from Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell last week, she seemed to imply that a lot of these financial gains had been made previously with the closure of other things. You did mention this document from 5 December 2001. Do you think you could submit that to the Committee so that we could see the evidence?

Professor Mason: I would be happy to do so. It contains a lot more detail about the discussions and the strategy. It was a very difficult discussion-I remember it-at the time about whether or not to join ESO, because we recognised that in doing that we would be giving up at that point national sovereign facilities. It was a very heated discussion with the community. It would be very interesting for you to read the detail of that, but the resolution and the right answer was arrived at because we are now pursuing a strategy of access to absolutely world-leading facilities in order to keep our scientific communities competitive, to attract the right people and to inspire.

Q133 Stephen Mosley: There has been an impression that you have been making the astronomy community pay twice for ESO membership in terms of gradually closing down facilities over the past 10 years, and then turning round now and saying, "Look, we made this commitment 10 years ago. We’ve got to close these things down." Can you categorically say that you are not making the community pay twice at all?

Professor Mason: The point I was trying to make was that we are doing better than the original strategy, which would have had more draconian cuts by now than we have implemented.

Q134 Stephen Mosley: Starting to look forward, when you spoke to us in January you said that you were hopeful that we would find a way of building the European Extremely Large Telescope. "Hopeful" implies that there might be some doubt. Is there any doubt about the UK continuing to play a leading role in the development of the telescope?

Professor Mason: No. The doubt, such as it is, and I don’t want to overplay this, is that we have still to see a firm plan from the European Southern Observatory as to what the telescope is going to be, how much it is going to cost, etcetera. They are working on that with a proposal that will come forward later this year. Provided that meets our objectives and is satisfactory, and I have no expectation that it won’t be, then we do have provision in our forward planning to be able to support UK participation in the ELT. In fact, it is one of our very highest priorities. It is very welcome. It is a very exciting project and one that helps to keep this subject and UK research in general at the forefront of the world.

Q135 Gavin Barwell: Professor Mason, I am not sure if you were here for the section in the previous inquiry when we dealt with this issue about the decision to focus research on technology, instrumentation and detector development in-house. If you were, you will have heard Professor Allport say that he thought that decision was completely anomalous and that he was strongly opposed to it. The Institute of Physics, in their submission, said to us that the decision was based on a misconception of how cutting-edge science and its associated innovative technology are related. Could you explain, from your point of view, the rationale for that decision and how you respond to those comments?

Professor Mason: If we had made that decision, I would not be for it. The fact is that we haven’t made such a decision and I am very grateful for another opportunity to clarify our position on this. We have tried to explain to the community that they don’t have a lot to worry about in this regard, but let me try and articulate why.

Let me read the sentence in the Delivery Plan that causes all the angst and the problems: "We will focus the capabilities of STFC’s in-house researchers, especially in astronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics, on technology, instrumentation and detector development, allowing university scientists to concentrate on research."

What we are trying to say there is, essentially, a re-statement of our existing position and the existing mission of our national laboratories, which is that they are there to support the scientific communities, and in particular in these capital intensive areas of building large detectors-not doing the detector R and D but building large instrumentation. What we were trying to capture there was not so much that we were going to prevent the universities from doing technology development, but we were going to encourage our in-house researchers not to compete with the universities in terms of scientific research and to concentrate on their core mission, which is to support the university communities in their endeavours.

The reason that this, to some eyes, apparently innocuous statement has caused a good deal of anxiety is the overall context for the research councils, where we are facing, as you know, severe restrictions on the capital budgets. As RCUK, we are adopting a clear policy, which is, I think, a very sensible policy, of not duplicating large technical capabilities unnecessarily. We are encouraging universities to share facilities, unless that is justified in another way such as putting in bespoke capabilities in a particular place, and we are also encouraging them to use our national laboratories, which is, after all, what they are there for, to support their research efforts.

There is a wider RCUK context in which we have a strategy for dealing with the very unpleasant restrictions on capital that there are, but, within the STFC context, all we are trying to do here is to re-state and re-clarify what has always been the case. The national laboratories are there to provide the technical support for universities, particularly in building large bits of kit. I would re-emphasise once and for all that we are not intending, nor would it be sensible, to restrict the university community from doing technical R and D and from doing blue-skies research of a technical kind. That would just be totally counter-productive. I hope I can lay that to rest once and for all.

Q136 Gavin Barwell: That was very helpful. What do you think it says about the relationship between the council and its academic community that what you clearly regard as a complete misunderstanding has occurred and persisted? The document you are talking about was published at the end of last year.

Professor Mason: Yes.

Q137 Gavin Barwell: It has been running for a number of months, yet when we called for evidence to this inquiry, clearly, that misunderstanding, as you regard it, still persists. What does that say about the relationship?

Professor Mason: I have every sympathy with our communities that have gone through a very difficult period. We have had to adjust to a financial climate which is not as benign as it was earlier in the decade. It might sound like a very small shift to say that we are going from a constant volume to constant cash, but it has a huge impact, as we have seen, particularly in a research council like the STFC, where we have such a large fraction of our programme tied up in long-term commitments, which are fixed. In being required to change tack very rapidly, as we were required to do, clearly the squeeze on the flexible parts of the programme is more marked. I understand the fact that the community is very sensitive to any change, and, indeed, suspicious of Government policy and research council policy in many areas, but what we have done over the last few years, while it has been painful, has borne fruit in this 2010 spending review.

As many people have commented, it is much better than we feared it might be, and the reason that it is much better than we feared it might be is twofold. First, we have over the years, since the inception of the STFC, highlighted and addressed the structural problems. The fact that, this time, facilities and international subscriptions were dealt with in a separate ring fence and, essentially, top-sliced from the overall research programme, means that we have a much more sustainable way of dealing with these things. The argument that we have been making for years is now accepted-that these are national investments and not something against which there should be tension in one part of the programme.

We have been through a very difficult period. However, we now have at least stability at a level that is below optimum, in my view, but at least a level of stability where we can build for the future. That is what I am anxious to set us going on, which is making the case for additional investment to restore what is not only a very healthy but an essential part of the overall research programme of the UK.

To risk going on longer than perhaps you would like, the case that we have been making, particularly in terms of particle physics and astronomy, is that it is not just of intellectual curiosity, but it is vital to the future health and prosperity of this nation to have people thinking at the cutting edge, thinking outside the box and developing skills and technology that have huge utility across the rest of society and the rest of the activities in which this nation is engaged.

Q138 Gavin Barwell: I have one more question for you, Professor Mason, and then I have one question for Sir Adrian. In the STFC’s submission to our inquiry, you state that "…the reduced capital available will potentially have impacts on programmes such as accelerator research and development." Could you provide a bit more detail? For example, do the ALICE and EMMA projects at Daresbury and the proposed accelerator research centre have a future, in your view?

Professor Mason: This is something we are debating at this time. I believe I said to you in January that we have done relatively well as a research council in terms of capital because of the recognition that a lot of the capital goes through our international subscriptions, supports our facilities and should be top-sliced. The main impact for us is the ability to start new initiatives and to develop those in a timely manner. This is an argument that my research council colleagues and I are making strenuously. You cannot sustain a healthy programme unless you invest in new capabilities.

In the case of the ALICE instrument, that is a microcosm of various debates that are happening. We have to make a decision as to whether the best science and the best programming comes from continuing to operate that or, perhaps, diverting those resources into starting new activities that can build for the future. That is a debate that the relevant people are conducting as we speak.

Q139 Gavin Barwell: What is the time scale for a decision on that one?

Professor Mason: I am hopeful that we will get clarity on the direction forward within the next couple of months.

Q140 Gavin Barwell: Sir Adrian, as you know, the UK has already withdrawn from a number of international projects such as the International Linear Collider. Are you concerned about the UK’s reputation as a reliable international partner when it comes to these large collaborative projects?

Sir Adrian Smith: As has been said many times, and it is rather tedious to keep repeating it, we all understand the background fiscal position. Most of us would take the view that within those fiscal constraints, the Government sent strong signals that it did recognise the importance of science and research by the relative protection of cash. Capital is difficult, of course. We did have a considerable round of negotiations with partners in CERN and elsewhere in the context of those fiscal constraints on things like subscriptions. In general terms, broadly, there is no mood out there that the UK is an unreliable partner. There will be specific projects that one might have wanted to be involved in that cannot be done. That is all part of the prioritisation project. But any kind of exaggeration that the UK is suddenly not a major international player or that our reputation is not respected is nonsense.

Q141 Graham Stringer: Professor Mason, I would like to take you back to Gavin’s question about the misunderstanding that you say there is between the universities and the research community and your plans for where work on detectors would be. I caricature what you are saying, but you are saying that the research community is anxious because of the cuts and, therefore, they have misunderstood them. Is there not a huge responsibility on you to make sure that people do understand those cuts? The submission from the university of Manchester quite clearly understood that what you were doing was to take the basic research out of their laboratories and other similar universities.

Professor Mason: I agree. I would characterise it more that in the current financial climate-and I would do exactly the same if I were them-they want absolute clarity about what we meant. They don’t want to find that they have misunderstood or whatever. I am happy to offer that absolute clarity. Hopefully, in this public session today we can lay that one to rest. Why would we do such a thing? It would just be totally counter-productive.

Q142 Graham Stringer: That is why they were worried. What you are saying is very helpful and I am sure it will help those people in the university departments, but should you really leave it to a public session of the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons to communicate in that way? Shouldn’t you be communicating directly and clarifying?

Professor Mason: We have done so. My director of science programmes attended, for example, meetings of the IOP and of the RAS in which he made this absolutely crystal clear. Frankly, I am a little surprised that it is still an issue, but I recognise, as I have said previously, that if I were the university community, I would want absolute clarity, too. I am very happy to keep re-stating the position. There is no sub-text here. There is no subterfuge. There is no hidden plan at all. This is exactly as it seems, which is just re-stating where the national laboratories fit into the overall landscape of scientific research in the UK.

Q143 Graham Stringer: I would like to move on to another piece of written evidence that we have had from Professor Stephen Hawking, who said: "It has been said that not all research and development comes from our Universities, but that all our researchers do." That is his direct quote. Are you concerned about the longer term consequences of under-investment in postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers?

Professor Mason: Yes. Put it this way. There is always the question going round of how many researchers you need. A priori, the Treasury asks us that all the time, "How many astronomers do you need? How many particle physicists do you need to be effective?" There is a very simple answer to that, which is that particle physics, astronomy, nuclear physics and a number of other areas, but those specifically, contribute hugely to our economic health, our development as a society and in many other ways. We are certainly not at the point of diminishing returns.

Money for research is very much an investment and not a cost. It is certainly not a luxury. If we invest more, we get more return. A survey recently has been published of the destinations of research students over the last nine years, and, given the huge demand particularly for our graduates, out of that entire cadre, only, maybe, 1% were unemployed. Most were earning more than the national average for the professional classes, even though they are at the early stages of their careers. There is both anecdotal and quantitative evidence that these graduates are in huge demand. We need more of them. If we had more resources, we could generate more of them. We are not, as I say, anywhere near the point of diminishing returns. Yes, I am concerned, in the sense that we need to get the case across that we need to invest in talent. That is what is going to keep this country healthy in the future and we are a prime source of that talent.

Q144 Graham Stringer: I think everybody would agree with that, but the written evidence the Committee has received indicates concerns that the number of research grants that you are giving out to postdocs and postgraduates is at an all-time low. Is that the case?

Professor Mason: In certain areas it probably is the case. In terms of studentships, we have sought to protect the number of students that we support. It has gone down, but it has gone down less than the rest of our programme. In terms of the number of postdoctoral researchers, yes, it has declined simply because of the constraints that I outlined earlier, and it is magnified by the fact that we have such a large fraction of long-term commitments that are beyond our immediate control in the short term. So the postdoc numbers are part of this little amount of flexibility we have and, clearly, they suffer much more proportionally.

This is not a situation with which I am comfortable. We need to find a way of restoring that capability, because, as I have said, it does affect the flow-through of talent into the rest of the economy, not to mention the ability to stay at the cutting edge of research.

The goods news is that within the SR 2010 settlement we at least have stability, and even the ability to grow slowly, provided inflation is kept under control. That is another factor that we have to bear in mind. I, for one, will certainly be promoting the case, as the economy improves, that we need to see this as an excellent place to make additional investment.

Q145 Graham Stringer: Do you think you could provide us with the equivalent figures for each of the last seven or eight years on resource spending on grants compared with the last financial year? I think that would be interesting to look at.

Professor Mason: I can provide you with those numbers.

Q146 Graham Stringer: Finally, the capital spending on grants to higher education institutions will be about a third of the level in 2014-15 as it is in 2010-11. Can you explain why those grants are falling so precipitately?

Professor Mason: Yes, and that is a worry. The good news, if there is any, is that the fraction of the total resource-"resource" is the wrong word because we now use that in a different context-or in terms of the total amount of money going to universities in the form of grants, capital is a very tiny fraction of that total. In the previous financial year, we spent of the order of £4 million only on capital and that will reduce to a bit more than £1 million.

Q147 Graham Stringer: It is a small sum of money in absolute terms. It is falling quite dramatically. Can you tell us what kind of areas will suffer because of that large fall?

Professor Mason : I am sorry?

Graham Stringer: What projects will not go ahead because of that cut?

Professor Mason: This category of capital is mostly concerned with small equipment, computers and supportive equipment for general research. Again, the good news is that, with regard to the major capital commitments that we have for our international subscriptions, some of that comes back to the UK. For example, in the case of the ELT work, the capital for that is provided through the ESO. We pay ESO some capital and that comes back to the UK to cover the capital costs. We then only have to provide the staff effort that goes along with that. For most of our major ongoing projects, then the capital contributions, certainly over the next year, have been covered in a very helpful way through this top-slicing mechanism that we discussed earlier as part of the partitioning of our programme.

The main concern that I have in terms of capital is the ability to start new things. That is not part of the university grants’ portfolio but simply the ability to access money from the Large Facilities Capital Fund, for example, which is severely constrained in future years.

I remind you that the capital allocation was made for one year only and indicative afterwards. You can read into that that it could go up or down, but we are certainly making the case that this level of capital investment is not sustainable for long if we want to maintain the high level of our programme and its world competitiveness.

Q148 David Morris: What role do the STFC staff have to play in promoting outreach and inspiring an interest in science? Can you allay concerns expressed to us, for example, from some staff at Daresbury Laboratory that "one of the first casualties as resources fall is outreach " ?

Professor Mason: We have an outreach programme that is £1.6 million a year. In our planning, we maintain that at that level, so it has constant cash through the next four years. We have taken a deliberate policy decision not to hit our outreach programme because we regard it as so important. In addition to that, we are working with our research council colleagues to promote public engagement at the RCUK level. Again, that is very important.

Also, if you are talking about our internal staff as opposed to the staff in universities, we continually encourage them to talk to wider society, to tell them what they are doing. We arrange visits to our laboratories. Within our resources, we do as much as we can to give access to the general public, who, after all, have paid for these things, to be able to see what is going on and be inspired by that. We are developing new initiatives, some by leveraging other sources of funding, to push that agenda forward. I personally regard it as extremely important and I rarely encounter anybody who thinks differently.

Q149 David Morris: Do you think the previous financial problems of the STFC have dented morale within the research workers? Do you think that because of its previous difficulties, the relationship with researchers may have impacted on the goodwill of scientists to carry out outreach work?

Professor Mason: I hope not because it is not something they do for charity, but it is something that is in their interests too. Clearly, whenever you are in a difficult situation, as we have been, morale is going to suffer. That is inevitable. Hopefully, we are now in a position where we can start to rebuild and move forward. Let’s not forget that what we have going forward is less than what we might have hoped for, but it is still an incredibly exciting programme. We are still involved in the most exciting elements of those, the top priority elements, and in a very strong way. We need to capitalise on that and ensure that the general public shares in the benefits of that investment, in the excitement and in the inspirational value of those things.

Q150 David Morris: The Association for Astronomy Education said in written evidence that it was a "false economy" for the STFC to reduce the amount of promotional and outreach material for schools that it produces. Why has the STFC reduced the publication of such material?

Professor Mason: I am not aware that we have, to be honest. We continue to produce the specific elements that were referred to in that piece of evidence and they continue to be available. Inevitably, over time, we are, will and should examine how we disseminate information. There is bound to be an increasing emphasis on computer media and more efficient ways-more effective ways, indeed-of distributing this information, but, in terms of the specific items that were referred to, my understanding is that we continue to produce them.

Q151 David Morris: You think that, instead of it being produced in hard copy format on paper, this is probably referring to it being distributed to schools.

Professor Mason: In this particular instance we continue to produce hard copy forms.

David Morris: You do.

Professor Mason: Yes. All I am saying is that, in general terms, one can expect that we would see a shift from hard copy forms to digital forms. As we all know, that is the way things are done these days.

Q152 Chair: Some of the big posters and things that are produced are going to continue to be produced.

Professor Mason: Yes. We are continually examining how to get the most effective impact from the amount of money that we have to spend on this.

Q153 Chair: Do you actively encourage scientists who you are supporting to engage in outreach work?

Professor Mason: Absolutely, and we always have. Within our new consolidated grants system, which both improves efficiency, going back to an earlier question, and gives university researchers a lot more freedom to set their own agenda, we are encouraging them to conduct a proportional amount of public engagement.

Q154 Chair: This Committee would, I am certain, endorse that and encourage the research councils to keep working out of the silos, because that is hugely important to everyone.

Professor Mason: Absolutely. I agree 100%.

Q155 Stephen Metcalfe: Professor Mason, we have heard examples this morning that you have had a somewhat difficult relationship with the research community that you have been funding during your time at the STFC. As your tenure draws to a close, is there anything that you believe you should have done differently that might have changed that relationship? Would you give any advice to your successor on how that relationship should be handled?

Professor Mason: I can only hope that my successor is in post in an easier climate than during my tenure. The STFC, as the previous witness acknowledged, is a very complex organisation. We had extreme pressures imposed on us from the 2007 spending review that were unanticipated by Government but, nevertheless, very real. I remind you that STFC was formed midway through the last spending review process. It was a very difficult situation to get up to speed on quickly and do everything right. However, I sleep easy at night that we did the best possible job that we could. There is a general consensus that we are improving our engagement with the community and improving it very rapidly.

It worked very well during this current spending review. Many people did an awful lot of hard work to get the outcome that we got in the spending review. That is work from Ministers, down through Adrian’s people, to the research councils and also the support of and engagement with the community. We have to send a very coherent and clear message, as I said before, that money in this area is an investment; it is not a cost. It is something we have to do and it is very important. There have been difficulties in making those messages coherent and getting everybody to recognise that it is in their interest, for example, to be trumpeting the economic benefits of doing astronomy as well as the research elements and the intellectual arguments. It is a much more powerful argument if you can say, "This is essential for the country" rather than something that is just for intellectual appearance.

Q156 Stephen Metcalfe: Absolutely, but you would not have done anything differently from the way you have done it.

Professor Mason: There are details in which I would have done things differently. There are always going to be lessons learnt. Nobody ever gets it perfectly right, but in terms of the general direction of travel, we have come from a very difficult place to a place where it is relatively healthy and we can build for the future. I am very satisfied with our progress.

Q157 Stephen Metcalfe: So your successor, who I touched upon earlier, will be taking over in a better climate, you believe, than when you were first appointed.

Professor Mason: Who knows? I would certainly hope so because I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else.

Q158 Stephen Metcalfe: No. When do you imagine that process to start?

Professor Mason: Perhaps Adrian should answer that.

Q159 Stephen Metcalfe: Do you believe that it should be fully open and transparent, and will you have an involvement in that?

Professor Mason: The answer is no, I won’t have an involvement in that, but Adrian should take that question.

Sir Adrian Smith: BIS will take that forward in conjunction with the STFC council, in particular with Professor Mike Sterling. The process of thinking about the timetable, etcetera, is already in hand.

Q160 Stephen Metcalfe: What about being "fully open and transparent"?

Sir Adrian Smith: I am not quite sure what you mean. The law of the land requires us to be fully open and transparent in placing job descriptions and in process. These things are overseen in a very close way to make sure that all proprieties are met and that there is openness. We have no choice.

Q161 Stephen Metcalfe: Sir Adrian, the Wakeham review recommended that the composition of the STFC council should "redress the balance between the executive presence and the non-executive oversight." Do you believe that that has now happened-that the composition has changed?

Sir Adrian Smith: Yes.

Q162 Stephen Metcalfe: You are happy with it and BIS is happy with it.

Sir Adrian Smith: Yes.

Q163 Stephen Metcalfe: Who controls the appointment of those members on the council? Is that BIS or the STFC itself?

Sir Adrian Smith: There is a joint process to identify and attract people for council posts. Ultimately and constitutionally, they are signed off by Ministers but, clearly, the appointment process, the talking to people and the use of head-hunters means that we generate as much interest among the wider community as possible.

Q164 Stephen Metcalfe: So it is a BIS-led process rather than conducted by the council itself.

Sir Adrian Smith: Ultimately, it is BIS and it is signed off by Ministers, but, clearly, with close involvement of the chairman of the council.

Q165 Stephen Metcalfe: I have one final question. When will the STFC start publishing its minutes of its council meetings again?

Professor Mason: The STFC does publish the minutes of its council meetings as a general policy. There was one glitch from last April where, for some reason, it did not. It got stalled, but even those minutes are now published, but we always have done and always intend to.

Q166 Graham Stringer: Professor Smith, what is the balance between scientists and non-scientists on the council?

Sir Adrian Smith: The current balance?

Graham Stringer: Yes.

Sir Adrian Smith: I happen to have the list of the current council in front of me. There are five people who would be recognised as scientists. I would regard Professor Mike Sterling as chair. Even though technically he is an engineer, I would put him in the category of engineering science academics. I would say there are six members on the council who I would view as scientists.

Q167 Graham Stringer: Out of how many?

Sir Adrian Smith: 11 or 12.

Professor Mason: There are 11 currently. There is one vacancy.

Sir Adrian Smith: 11.

Q168 Graham Stringer: Do you think that balance is right?

Sir Adrian Smith: Yes.

Q169 Graham Stringer: It is different from the balance on the other councils, is it, where there are more-

Sir Adrian Smith: No. There are 8 out of 16 at BBSRC. It is about the same ratio, is it not?

Q170 Graham Stringer: What about the other councils?

Sir Adrian Smith: I don’t have those figures in front of me, but I would think it is about the same.

Chair: Thank you, gentlemen.