Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by Dr Thomas R Shelley (Int Dev 01)

International Development

Possible improvements to the way DfID works,

Ever since I was at Cambridge in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I have been involved with the problem of improving education and development in developing countries and have to say that while many worthy educated British people have done much to help, activities by British Government agencies have always been something of an irrelevance. In my various experiences, I never heard of anything the British Government had achieved, and whenever I have tried to involve DFID or its various predecessors, it has always been, for some reason, outside their remit.

1. Recycling text books and scientific equipment.

At Cambridge, I used to run the University of Cambridge branch of an organisation called World University Service. In my third year as an undergraduate in 1967 I hit on the idea of getting students going down, who could not be bothered to either sell or take their text books with them, to donate them to us. I then sorted through them and selected those that were worth sending to universities abroad, selling those that were not to be sent and using the money raised towards paying the shipping cost of the rest. I also started collecting unwanted laboratory equipment, and with the help of the London office of WUS, started collecting and shipping that too. As far as I know, nobody did this work after me, yet when I later went to work in Iran as a professor, I found that shortage of text books was a major problem for my students, which led to the university I was working in buying a printing press to produce pirated copies of some of the books.

Nothing has improved since. My wife is presently in her last year as a science teacher at a local school in Kent and told me that they throw lots of science text books away every time they change syllabus. I asked DfID if they had some means of sending donated text books and equipment to schools and they responded that it was not part of their remit. I have since made an arrangement through a retired BBC film director to have such text books and what equipment I can find shipped to Tafo in Ghana, where their schools and colleges have no books and no equipment except that which the film director has managed to find for them. But when my wife retires at the end of this school year, once again, all such surplus text books will go into skips for landfill.

I really think that DfID could help by using the power of being a government agency to collect up and ship unwanted science text books and equipment to institutions in Third World countries which presently have nothing. This has to be a better use of these materials than sending them to landfill, which is the fate of most of them at present

2. Volunteer engineers aiding research and development

My wife and I have made various visits to Pakistan at our own expense. On one particular occasion in August 2008, we were guests of Mr Rastgar, head of the Engineering Development Board, and he arranged that I give a series of lectures on how Pakistan could develop green solutions to their energy needs. These were very well received and he and we came up with a scheme to organise this research in Pakistan, and encourage retired engineers from the UK to come and give their time to assist it. We found that German and Russian semi retired engineers and professors were being brought in - we met some of each - but could not interest anyone in the UK in this idea. Again, if DfID cared to organise such schemes, where semi retired experts were shipped out to countries which needed them, this could be of great benefit, and help the UK sell not a few exports. The German we talked to was there with his expenses met by local companies, but not paid a salary, and regarded the visit as a holiday. He was staying as a guest in Mr Rastgar’s residence while the Russian professor we met at a university in North West Frontier Province was being paid, but not much, and said he was there because he was enjoying the warm climate. I regret that we shall not be making any more visits to Pakistan in the near future after an attempt in July 2011 was made to rob us at gunpoint, and then murder us the following day, possibly connected with a terrorist organisation headquartered in London and under police protection here.

While we are reluctant to go again to Pakistan until the security situation improves, we feel that we could do a very useful job in some other country in the same sort of way, and know there are many others like us, who would also be willing to give some other country the benefit of skills acquired during a lifetime, which are no longer required in the UK. I am a chartered engineer, and my wife Rizwana is a chartered physicist.

Dr Thomas R Shelley Ph.D., M.A., M.I.M.M.M., C.Eng. F.S.O.E., F.I.Plant.E.,

12 November 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011