Astronomy and Particle Physics - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Supplementary written evidence from Professor George Efstathiou, Director, Kavli Institute for Cosmology, Cambridge (APP 03a)

Dear Mr Miller

I have just listened to your session today and thought that you might like to see the letter that I sent Adrian Smith concerning the composition of STFC Council. The appendix lists the composition of several other research councils as of July 2010. I think you can see that there is a large difference in the composition of STFC compared to the other research councils. STFC has only one research academic in particle physics (James Sterling) and only one research academic in astronomy (Martin Barstow).

I cannot see how Adrian Smith can say that the composition of STFC is similar to that of other research councils.

Yours sincerely

George Efstathiou
Professor of Astrophysics
Director Kavli Institute for Cosmology
Cambridge

16 March 2011

Annex

Letter from Professor George Efstathiou FRS, Director, Kavli Institute for Cosmology, University of Cambridge to Professor Adrian Smith FRS, Department for Business Innovation and Skills

Dear Professor Smith

Earlier this month a group of senior academics, including myself, submitted a petition to Professor Michael Sterling signed by nearly 1,000 scientists expressing a loss of confidence in the CEO of STFC. In fact, there was widespread loss of confidence in STFC in 2008. However, the academic community did not express this in the form of a petition in the hope that the Wakeham Review and the RCUK Structural Review of STFC would lead to changes that might help to restore some confidence.

Our group has met with Professor Sterling twice and we have had some constructive discussions. However, we have reached an impasse on aspects of the governance of STFC, particularly on the composition of STFC Council, which I believe is a critical issue.

The composition of STFC Council is radically different to the composition of the other Research Councils. The composition of STFC Council was flagged as a major issue in the 2008 Science and Technology Select Committee Report and by the Wakeham Review. I quote from the Wakeham review:

"The Panel was immediately drawn to the different governance structure that exists in STFC in comparison with other Research Councils, notably a reduced Council membership of 10 individuals, four of whom are not university-based academics, and a further three of whom are from the STFC executive. The Panel was told by STFC that this different structure was deliberately selected to deal with the multiple purposes assigned to STFC. The provision and maintenance of large scale facilities for science in the UK and elsewhere, the provision of grant funding for three sub-disciplines of physics and the planning, operation and development of a (sic) Science and Innovation campuses at Daresbury and Harwell. Its small size was designed by DIUS to make it dynamic and to facilitate regular meetings. However, when compared to other Research Councils, which have Councils made up of approximately 11 to 17 members representing broad scientific interests from the community operating at the highest level, STFC does stand out for the relative lack of members of the scientific community at the highest level. The structure has not best served the community in several branches of science whose input is one level below Council. The Panel therefore recommends that the DIUS should broaden the membership of STFC Council to include more stakeholders in the science activity, and that the balance between executive presence and non-executive oversight should be redressed. It is argued that this adjustment can be made without detracting from the executive activity in developing the Science and Innovation Campuses.

The Panel recommends to DIUS that the membership of STFC's Council be broadened to include more of the stakeholders in the science activity at the highest level, and to redress the balance between executive presence and non-executive oversight."

and the RCUK response to this recommendation (October 2008):

"DIUS accepts this recommendation. Details of an open competition to recruit two additional scientists as non-executive members of Council (the maximum permitted by STFC's Royal Charter) will be published shortly."

And from the 2008 Grant/Hazell Organisational Review of STFC:

"22.  Governance issues within the Executive seem to be further compounded by evidence of a lack of shared understanding within the top team concerning the role of Council. In our discussions with senior staff from the STFC Executive the perceived role of Council was articulated to the Panel in terms that ranged from the probity and oversight role of a 'board of trustees' to the strategic leadership role of a 'board of directors'. It is the Panel's view that the role of Council is closest to the latter."

"23.  The Panel also considered the composition of Council, noting that RCUK recently announced that DIUS intends to recruit two additional scientific members to the Council, in response to a recommendation by the RCUK Review of Physics chaired by Professor Bill Wakeham. Notwithstanding this change, the Panel notes that the Council of STFC differs from that of the other Research Councils in having three members of the Executive on Council. The norm for the other Councils is that the Chief Executive is the only member of Council from the Executive. It is the Panel's view that the case for this distinction has not been convincingly made.

There is also clear evidence that the composition of Council has created a negative perception outside of STFC that the Executive has excessive influence within Council."

As a result of these recommendations, two members of the Executive resigned from Council and three University based academics (Professor Martin Barstow, Sir Peter Knight and Professor James Stirling) were appointed to Council in April 2009.

However, following Professor Sterling's appointment as Chair of STFC, three new members of Council were appointed from the business community. These appointments have again skewed STFC Council so that it looks highly anomalous compared to other Research Councils (see the annex attached to this letter). Most of the other Research Councils are dominated by "heavyweight" research scientists with strong international reputations. In my conversations with Michael Sterling, he has seemed to be under the mistaken impression that most other Research Councils are dominated by "lay" members, and is particularly concerned that academics in receipt of grants from STFC have a "conflict of interest". I quote verbatim from an email exchange (15 July 2010):

"Thank you for setting down your views about the membership of STFC Council. We have discussed it a number of times in detail but I regret that I do not share your view. The need for scientific understanding is not limited to active researchers who are funded by the Council, who have an inevitable conflict of interest. The challenge for recruiting future Council members is to persuade those who have that knowledge but are not in receipt of our funding, to accept the challenge that Council membership entails in these difficult times. Your suggestions would be welcome but as you know the process is controlled by BIS."

I accept that STFC Council needs a range of expertise, but I do not accept this oversensitivity to potential conflicts of interest of research scientists on Council. It does not seem to be a significant concern for the other Research Councils. In the case of MRC, they seem happy to have members from MRC Institutes (for whom they presumably pay salaries) as members of Council. Research scientists are regularly asked to sit on panels where we must make cross-disciplinary decisions. In my experience top scientists are highly capable of making objective decisions. This is evidently expected from members of STFC Science Board.

Academic members of Council are necessary: (a) to provide technical and scientific expertise; (b) to develop a coherent scientific strategy for STFC; (c) to advise Council on the impact of decisions on these subjects; (d) to retain the confidence of the academic communities in these subjects (particularly in difficult economic times).

No other Research Council relegates its academic heavyweights to lower level committees.

It is clear to me that the loss of confidence with STFC Executive is in large part due to governance issues, including the under-representation of senior scientists on Council. STFC seemed to take a step in the right direction following the Wakeham Review (with DIUS/BIS approval), but has now taken a step backwards.

I would therefore like answers to the following questions:

[A]  The Organisational Review of STFC stated clearly that a Research Council should provide "strategic leadership". How can this be achieved if the best research scientists are excluded from Council?

[B]  The Wakeham Review explicitly called for the inclusion of "more of the stakeholders in the science activity at the highest level". DIUS accepted this recommendation and appointed three University based academics to Council. Why is BIS now ignoring the Wakeham Review and skewing Council towards a lay membership?

[C]  Why is the composition of STFC Council so different to that of the other Research Councils?

[D]  Do you agree with Professor Sterling that University academics in receipt of STFC funds have a conflict of interest and should not sit on Council? If so, why does this restriction not apply to other Research Councils?

[E]  If one follows strictly the logic that recipients of STFC funds cannot serve on Council, then why does this not also apply to people from STFC funded industry (eg Astrium, e2v, etc)?

[F]  Are you confident, based on your recent experience, that Council members with the scientific expertise to provide "strategic leadership" can be found from the business community?

Finally, you will of course have seen the Royal Academy of Engineering response to your Science and Research Budget review request calling publically for a reduction of funding to fundamental physics and particle physics in particular. Yet Mr Philip Greenish, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering is a member of STFC Council and is surely aware of the savage reductions of 35% to science exploitation funding in particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics since 2008. These reductions go well beyond the "slash and burn" scenario envisaged by the Royal Society and leave these subjects particularly vulnerable going in to a difficult CSR.

So my final question is:

[G]  Do you believe that Mr Greenish's continued membership of Council is credible, particularly given the loss of confidence in STFC by the academic community?

Yours sincerely

George Efstathiou

19 July 2011

Annex

MEMBERSHIP OF RESEARCH COUNCILS

NERC
ChairmanEd Wallis Chairman WS Atkins
CEOProf. Alan Thorpe (Former Director NEC Centres for Atmospheric Sciences)
MembersProf Paul Curran Professor of Physical Geography, Bournemouth
Prof Huw DaviesProfessor of Physics, Institute for Atmospheric Climate Change ETH Zurich
Mr Rowan DouglasManaging Director Wills Analytics
Prof Alastair Fitter Pro-VC for Research, Univ. York
Prof Anne GloverChief Scientific Advisor, Scotland
Prof Charles Godfray Prof of Zoology, Univ. Oxford
Prof Alex HallidayProf of Geochemisty, Univ. Oxford
Mr Peter HazellChairman Argent Group etc.
Prof Michael Lockwood Prof Space Plasma Physics, Energy and Environment, Univ. Southampton
Prof Thomas MeagherProf Plant Biology, Univ. St Andrews
Prof Julia SlingoMet Office Chief Scientist
Prof Andrew WatsonProf Environmental Sciences, Univ. East Anglia
Prof Rob WatsonProf Environmental Sciences, Univ. East Anglia
Prof Marjorie Wilson Prof of Igneous Petrogenesis, Univ. Leeds.
13 University + 3 "Lay"

EPSRC
ChairmanJohn ArmittCEO Network Rail
CEOProf David DelpyFormer Vice Provost Research UCL
Prof Anne AndersonProfessor of Human ComputerInteraction, Univ. Dundee
MembersMike CarrFormer Chief Scientific Officer BT
Prof Brian CollinsChief Scientific Advisor SfT, Prof of Information Systems Cranfield
Prof Lynn GladdenShell Professor, Univ. Cambridge
Dr Andrew HerbertManaging Director, Micros of Cambridge
Prof Tim PedleyProf. Fluid Mechanics, Univ. Cambridge
Dr Malcolm RobertsManaging Director Guidance Ltd.
Prof Roy SamblesProf of Experimental Physics, Exeter
Prof Christopher Snowden Vice-Chancellor Univ. of Surrey
Prof Pierre-Louis Viollet Vice-President R&D Labs.
Prof Bill WakehamVice Chancellor Univ. Southampton
Dr Dave WatsonDirector IBM Hursley Lab.
Prof Mark WellandProf of Nanotechnology Cambridge and Chief Scientific Advisor MoD
Prof Robert WinstonProf of Science and Society Imperial
Dr Tony WoodHead of Medicinal Chemistry, Pfizer
11 University + 6 "Lay"

MRC
ChairSir John Chisholm Chair QinetiQ
CEOSir Leszek Borysiewicz Former Deputy Rector Imperial, Principal Faculty of Medicine
MembersProf Jeffrey Almond Vice-President Research and Development
(Former Head of School of Animal and Microbial Science, University of Reading)
Prof Michael ArthurVC Univ. of Leeds (Former Dean of Faculty of Medicine, Southampton)
Prof Dame Sally Davies DG Research Dept of Health
Prof Chris DayProf of Liver Medicine Univ. of Newcastle
Dr Annette DohertyPfizer Global Research and Development
Dr Richard Henderson MRC Lab of Molecular Biology
Prof Sir Andrew McMichael Prof of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford
Prof Sally Macintyre Prof Faculty of Medicine Univ of Glasgow.
Hon Director MRC Social and Public Health Unit, Glasgow
Ms Vivienne ParryWriter and broadcaster
Lord Naren PatelFormer consultant obstetrician Ninewells Hospital Dundee, Former President Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Prof Michael Schneider Head of Cardiovascular Science, Imperial College
Prof Herb SewellProf of Immunology, University of Nottingham
10 academics (including CE0) + 4 "Lay"

STFC
ChairProf Mike Sterling Former VC Birmingham
CEOProf Keith MasonFormer Head MSSL
MembersMrs Gill Ball Former Finance Director, Birmingham
Prof Martin BarstowHead of College of Science Engineering, Leicester
Prof Keith BurnettVice Chancellor, Sheffield
Mr Marshall DaviesRetired Director Boots
Mr Philip GreenishCEO Royal Academy of Engineering
Dr Michael HealyDirector Navigation Business Division Astrium
Dr Philip KaziewiczManaging Director GI Partners
Prof Peter KnightSenior Principal Imperial
Prof James SterlingJacksonian Professor of Physics, Cambridge
Mr Will WhitehornPresident Virgin Galactic
6 University (including CEO& Chair) + 5 "Lay"




 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 13 May 2011