This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
George Osborne gave a speech at the Royal Society this morning, in which he highlighted eight research prriorities:
1. Data driven discovery
2. Synthetic biology
3. Regenerative medicine
5. Energy storage
6. Advanced materials and nanotechnology
8. Satellites and space
Sarah Castell jokingly suggested that we could kill two birds with one stone:
Let's get the robots to do the agri-science, two priorities in one hit. #Osbornesci—
Sarah Castell (@sarahcastell) November 09, 2012
You can read a transcript of the speech here. I wasn’t there, so my impressions of the juicy part – the Q&A session – have been gleaned from the Twitter feed. The impression one gets from this is that Osborne didn’t really give satisfactory answers to questions on the migrant cap, the 4G campaign and more. It is fairly clear that the Treasury still does not couple sustained investment in science with economic growth, which is why we need to keep making the case for this.
And what if your research has not been deemed a priority? What about investing in people and skills? The government needs to recognise that the it is not enough to fund research; rather the overall basic research system must be protected. As Kieron Flanagan (Lecturer in Science and Technology Policy as the University of Manchester) has argued, “many of the social and economic benefits of research actually stem from the health and dynamism of the ‘system’ and not from the the impacts of specific bits of research.”
P.S. I’ve been writing more at the Biochemical Society blog recently. You can check it out here: http://biochemicalsociety.wordpress.com/
Update: You can now listen to speech and Q&A session here: http://royalsociety.org/news/2012/osborne-at-royal-society/?utm_source=social_media&utm_medium=hootsuite&utm_campaign=standard
This post first appeared at the Society of Biology’s blog and was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
I recently stumbled upon an article from the February 9th, 1952 edition (guess why?) of Nature, in which the Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds was reported holding forth on ‘Postgraduate Studies in the Universities’. Said VC, Mr C.R. Morris, was reportedly adamant that “young men and women do not… sufficiently realise the importance, or the significance, of the fundamental scientific inquiries proceeding in… university departments.” He also said that “the future of Britain as a great nation, and its future eminence in the sciences themselves, depend upon the maintenance of the high tradition of a university in which all the great fields of human knowledge and speculation are represented in strength.”
Times change. If we consider Morris’ statement as intended to recognise the value of interdisciplinarity, these views still echo true. But on the students themselves, most would agree that today’s cohorts are highly aware of university science and its high quality. In the current climate though, the channelling of students towards academia alone looks increasingly less sensible.
This is one of the issues currently being looked at by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), who are running an inquiry into Postgraduate Education. With the recent criticism of the government for seemingly neglecting this important policy area, there has been much interest in this inquiry. I worked with the Society of Biology to respond to their initial consultation, raising our concerns but also highlighting important strengths and opportunities, in consultation with our memberships. You can read the full submission here (PDF), with key points highlighted in bold. Subsequently, we were invited to take part in a roundtable discussion focussing on the life sciences. This provided an opportunity to discuss some of the issues further with members of the commission and a number of postgraduates from around the UK.
At the session, hosted by the Wellcome Trust, we heard from Professor Julia Buckingham (Pro-Rector (Education & Academic Affairs) at Imperial College London), Dr Malcolm Skingle, (Director of Academic Liaison at GlaxoSmithKline) and Harriet Dickinson (a PhD student and Biochemical Society member from the University of Cambridge), before the floor was opened up for discussion. Some of the key points raised by the speakers, myself and the rest of the group were:
- The priorities of undergraduates are gearing more and more towards gaining internships and contact with employers. More students are looking ‘away from the bench’ as they see limited opportunities, particularly with fewer individuals able to get funding from e.g. the Wellcome Trust.
- MSc qualifications are becoming increasingly requisite for entry to PhD programmes, but there are significant financial disincentives for both the individuals and the universities (who, Professor Buckingham said, are “at the end of the day, a business”).
- There are a variety of ways further study could be made more attractive; financially e.g. no interest charged on student loans whilst still in further education (for current new entrants to the system, interest is inflation-linked even when repayments are not being made) and career-wise e.g. creating clearer career progression pathways.
- We need to increase fluidity between industry and academia at all levels (Dr Skingle said that the CASE Studentships programme is “amazing” and expressed support for the Doctoral Training Centre model) but that student experience is vital if individuals are to become the institute leaders of the future.
- Students no longer ‘look down’ on industry, but it can be unclear how to get a clear idea of the opportunities. There is significant concern that if you leave academia you are seen to have ‘jumped ship’, and there are real and perceived difficulties regarding hiring processes in any return to academia.
- The necessity for postgraduate mobility creates problems for access; there need to be more supportive programmes to provide support.
Professor Buckingham raised the important point that to develop the ‘leaders of tomorrow’ we need to let students “get out” – not be a clone of their principle investigator (PI) – as well as open their eyes to careers outside science and help them to succeed. Harriet made the point that it is difficult even to get PI/institutional support for gaining transferrable skills such as learning foreign languages, and one of the other delegates expressed frustration that his North American collaborators are facilitated to develop entrepreneurial and business skills; opportunities he felt were closed to him in his UK programme. The criticism of ‘funnelling’ to pure academia has been growing recently and was echoed by Dr Skingle, who outlined the essential skills required for graduates and postgraduates to be hired. Amongst them were the traditional areas that are often lamented as being lacking, such as skills in numeracy and communications, but he also stated:
- subject knowledge
- ability to solve real problems
- ability speak the language of different scientific disciplines
- knowledge of how different industries work; being a good team worker
- ability to network outside own area of science
- computer-based systems ability (e.g. smart data mining)
- ability to change and adapt.
However, his view was that GSK does generally get what it needs from graduates and that UK students match up well internationally.
Regarding the next steps, the HEC are running a number of roundtable events like the one outlined above, the outcomes of which will be combined with the written evidence received and reported to David Willetts (Minister for Universities and Science). We were informed that they intend to take a strategic view to Mr Willetts to present a clear picture. We’ll be following this with interest, as the issues surrounding postgraduate education in STEM have been overlooked for too long.
The original version of this post appeared on the British Ecological Society’s Ecology and Policy Blog
As a whole, UK businesses invest less in research and development than their major international competitors, and there is more that the Government can do to address this disparity. That was the message from Beck Smith, Assistant Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), addressing yesterday’s meeting of the Policy Lunchbox network. Beck provided a fascinating overview of an area of policy that members of the Biochemical Society and British Ecological Society (partners in organising Policy Lunchbox) may know little about but, Beck made clear, should familiarise ourselves with given the vital importance of support from business to the health of the science base in the UK.
The previous Labour Government stated its aim to increase the overall investment in research and development (R&D) from all sources to 2.5% of GDP by 2014, although the current Government doesn’t intend to adopt national targets. In any case, at present, we stand at just 1.8% of GDP being invested; indicating the significant distance that remains for us to catch up with other ‘G7′ countries. Given that the UK Government is committed to tackling the budget deficit and therefore tightening spending, the importance of leveraging other sources for investment in R&D is clear. At the moment, however, the UK is third from bottom amongst the G7 group (ahead of Canada, just, and Italy) in terms of business spend on R&D. In 2009, the 1000 UK companies that invested the most in R&D spent a total of £25.3bn, down 0.6% on the previous year. So what can the Government do to address this potential downward trend?
First, Beck stressed, we need to understand why business and industry aren’t investing as much in R&D in the UK as it could do. Beck outlined research suggesting that one way this can be explained is as a combination of three factors, which collectively can be called ‘market failure’:
1. ‘Spillover rationale’: the suggestion that innovators find it difficult to appropriate all returns from their innovations. For example, the inventor of the first personal computer will have seen others move in to develop this technology and will now occupy a crowded space. This disincentiveses innovation. The Government can address this through means that allow companies to keep more of the benefits of their investments, for example through tax breaks such as the R&D tax credit.
2. Coordination failure: broadly speaking, difficulties encountered by groups of individuals or firms in acting collectively. There may be a failure of businesses to network sufficiently with organisations conducting research (or vice versa) that may be of benefit to them. This could be alleviated by the facilitation of partnerships between industry and universities.
3. Information failure: Differences in the information available to both parties prevent transactions from taking place. This argument suggests, for example, that businesses seeking financial support or partners for R&D projects simply don’t know where to find the necessary information to do so.
Beck suggested that there are a number of levers that Government could use to address these market failures – thereby encouraging greater support from business and industry for science in the UK – through focusing on the following areas:
1. Skills: Universities report that many students entering courses from A-levels require remedial lessons in, for example, mathematics and experimental design, in order to perform. Furthermore, industries have complained that they need to give new graduates from universities additional training before they are competent in their jobs. There have also been reports from industry surveys that there are a shortage of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to fill posts. Alongside addressing school and university tuition there therefore appears a need to raise the profile of careers in science amongst young people (such as through the STEM Ambassadors programme).
Recent amendments to immigration requirements in the UK may also have sent a negative message to qualified STEM graduates from overseas – those who may be considering further study and research in the UK – regarding the UK’s reputation as a good place to pursue a scientific career. Although the Government has taken steps to address these issues for STEM graduates, these negative perceptions may take some time to dispel.
2. Financial environment: tax-breaks such as the ‘patent box’ (a corporation tax cut of 10% on all profits attributed to patents) could create a favourable environment for companies to invest in R&D. Beck also highlighted the positive role that ‘challenge prizes’, such as the $10 billion Ansari X Prize, can play in incentivising investment and scientific progress. Since the launch of the X Prize, to reward the development of the first viable craft for unmanned space flight, it is estimated that there has been an additional $100 billion of investment in this area of study.
3. Knowledge flow: the Government could amend the Research Excellence Framework, for example to make it easier for universities to employ those who have worked in industry. When budgets are cut within industry, Beck suggested, one of the first areas of investment to be cut is the travel and meetings budget. Employees therefore decrease their network at a time when this needs to be expanding. Facilitating the flow of information between researchers in academia and in industry can help to address this.
4. A long-term, cross-party strategy for science in the UK would also be very welcome.
Beck highlighted recent developments from Government which have gone some way to address the points raised. For example, an annual £250,000 prize fund has been announced (orders of magnitude less than the X Prize but nonetheless a step in the right direction), whilst the Government is pressing ahead with plans for research hubs to link business and academia (so called ‘Catapult Centres’, previously known as ‘Technology Innovation Centres’) to aid commercialisation. However, there are convincing arguments for the state to do much more; such as those recently presented in a work by Mariana Mazzucato called ‘The Entrepreneurial State’.
Speaking about the publication on yesterday’s Today Programme, in the document and online, Ms Mazzucato argues for public policy to be bold and courageous, stepping in to fund areas that the private sector has no interest in, as well as putting in place mechanisms to reap greater returns for itself for doing so. As an example, the United States supported the development of the internet by pouring huge amounts of money into the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which undertook a significant amount of the research underpinning the formation of what is now known as Silicon Valley. The private sector, Mariana suggests, has a reputation of coming into areas of research 15–20 years after a large amount of state investment. It cannot therefore be seen as the answer to addressing deficits in state funding for science and innovation (although it is clearly complementary); the Government must find innovative ways of funding large-scale investment in the science base in this country if we want to see the emergence of another Google in the UK, for example.
Policy Lunchbox is a network for Policy Officers and others working in learned societies and the third sector. It is run jointly by the British Ecological Society and Biochemical Society. See our webpage for details of forthcoming events. The next event will be on how to get the most from party conferences.
This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
I’ve just seen the shiny new(ish) video for Cancer Research UK’s new campaign called Create the Change. It’s about raising money to help fund their contribution to the Francis Crick Institute, in which they are joined in consortium by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, UCL, Imperial College London and King’s College London. They’re looking for £100m.
Personally I believe that the Francis Crick Institute is a great idea, but there are significant problems and risks associated with building and launching it at a time of severe cutbacks, and not just in capital and from government. The investment comes at the same time as CRUK (late last year) and Wellcome Trust (early last year) decisions to cut their project grants. This is a huge blow for researchers in the biomedical field, particularly young researchers. It is already very difficult to secure research funding and these decisions exacerbate such problems.
UK grant application success rates are currently around 20%, which brings its own dilemmas, and with competition increasing and renewed emphasis on excellence (seemingly being framed as if mediocre was OK before), many are at risk of exclusion from some of the foremost sources of research funding. However, if our commitment to fundamental research is to be preserved at a level which can maintain our future research excellence, we need to invest in potential. At the moment, the losers of increasingly demanding competition risk exclusion for not being judged ‘excellent’ enough. The Wellcome Trust’s long-term investigator awards are praiseworthy, avoiding the stop-start disruption which affects the planning and productivity of labs. But cutting project grants just increases the uncertainty and instability for those who are not lucky enough to secure one of these, which is the majority.
Fundamentally, project grants are increasingly hard to find. Will the paucity of opportunities start to drive researchers abroad – will there be any talent to fill the labs of the Francis Crick Institute in years to come? Are the differences between costs and investments being fully realised?
The original version of this post appeared on the British Ecological Society’s Ecology and Policy Blog.
The Biochemical Society, together with the British Ecological Society, hosted another successful Policy Lunchbox at Charles Darwin House yesterday. The guest speaker was Dr David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), who delivered an engaging talk on the process of turning innovative ideas into real products and services. David identified a number of barriers to this progression and outlined how the TSB is working to address them. His presentation (MS Powerpoint) can be downloaded from the Policy Lunchbox listings page.
One of the biggest issues is the significant risk involved in pursuing innovative ideas, as well as a lack of long-term support for innovative projects due to a demand for immediate returns on investments. David highlighted that people need to be educated better about risk to help change these attitudes, and we also heard that there is also a lack of long-term political planning. The UK Government does not harness its considerable market influence, which has the potential to drive innovation in its suppliers through forward-thinking procurement and regulation, alongside tax breaks to encourage investment in certain technologies, he said. Since its creation, the TSB has developed a ‘toolbox’ of solutions to these barriers including providing coherent, long-term support to those involved in innovation and encouraging knowledge exchange, for example by hosting ‘Missions’ to introduce innovators to potential competitors, funders and collaborators. They have also created _connect, an online social network for innovators which aims to ‘match’ people with similar interests.
David set out how the TSB’s budget is worked out, highlighting sustainability as a specific, dedicated programme which underpins all of the board’s work, despite a proportionally small allocation. The TSB works across a huge range of different areas – see slide 5 of David’s presentation, which shows the proportion of the budget spent in each – with the recently monikered Catapults being allocated around 20% of this. These include the new Cell Therapy Catapult, as the TSB looks to take advantage of an industry which they expect to be worth £3.1billion by 2014. Of around 160 employees at the TSB, the core are made up of individuals who trained as scientists but also have business and industrial experience. This experience is essential as each industry advances at different speeds, which needs to be understood.
Whilst healthcare and the biosciences are strategically important areas for the TSB, one area that represents a key theme throughout their work is the environment. The need to double food production by 2050 will require significant innovation in agriculture, whilst increasing energy production without worsening damage to the environment will require novel design and planning. In response to this energy challenge, one of the Catapults will focus on Offshore Renewable Energy, and the TSB is already contributing to innovative environmental projects elsewhere. A Demonstrator Project (designed to encourage further innovation in the sector) tested consumer responses to newly introduced electric cars; measuring their habits, attitudes and opinions of the vehicles when using them for a year. Another scheme – Retrofit for the Future – used innovative technologies to adapt 118 social houses to reduce their carbon emissions by 80% and found significant energy and money savings for the residents.
With the Business Secretary Vince Cable MP announcing a further Catapult Centre yesterday and a range of funding opportunities and events planned for the new year, the TSB’s valuable work in driving innovation is set to continue. Importantly though, David acknowleged that without investment in the research base, there wouldn’t be anything to commercialise.
David Bott’s presentation at the Policy Lunchbox was well received by all the attendees and led to some very interesting discussion afterwards. We would like to thank David Bott for his participation, and everyone who attended. The TSB report ‘Concept to Commercialisation’, which discusses the work of the TSB further is available online.
The next Policy Lunchbox event on 6th March will see Beck Smith, Assistant Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, discuss ‘How can the Government incentivise private sector investment in research and development?’ This event is fully booked, but to join the waiting list you can contact me at the Biochemical Society.
This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
With discontent still surrounding the imminent transfer of all the Forensic Science Service’s (FSS) work to private providers and the police, one potential (emphasis on potential) silver lining is the extra attention research has been given in the inquiry.
The FSS previously spent £3-4 million per year on research and development, a significant hole which now needs to be filled for the sake of our justice system and competetiveness in this area. Furthermore, commercial forensic service providers have less incentive than the publicly funded FSS to conduct original research, particularly at a time when they need to rapidly expand their scientific services to shoulder the extra work they must now take on. To counter this, there are now growing calls for forensic science research to be incentivised within the public funding framework; by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Research Councils and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).
In December, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee held an evidence session at which they questioned Professor Bernard Silverman, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Home Office, on this issue. Professor Silverman spoke positively and said that he was undertaking discussions with the three aforementioned funders. With the FSS gone, the Home Office may no longer be seen as the ‘home’ of forensic science research, creating an onus on these three, who receive their funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. And, as Professor Jim Fraser, Director of the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde, said in his submission to the original inquiry: “The research councils talk a great deal about the ‘impact of research’. What could be more impactive than criminal justice?”
Whilst the Research Councils will not make forensic science an immediate ‘strategic priority’, Professor Silverman was enthusiastic that they are taking steps to stress the importance of research in this area. Continued political pressure will help them “rise to the challenge” (Silverman) and encourage innovative research in universities, for which they can be rewarded through the Research Excellence Framework.
Whilst it would be foolish to expect all the FSS’ research and development practises to be continued, this may well provide an opportunity for new, innovative and collaborative research to fill this gap.
Also attending the Science and Technology Committee evidence session were James Brokenshire MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Prevention) and Andrew Rennison (Forensic Science Regulator). Other items under discussion included the FSS archive and the creation of a new strategic group, which is expected to meet for the first time in April. An uncorrected transcript can be found here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmsctech/uc1698-i/uc169801.htm
This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
Professor Stephen Curry, Professor of Structural Biology at Imperial College London and past contributor to The Biochemist recently spoke at the Heads of University Biological Sciences (HUBS) Winter Meeting 2011 about impact within the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014). He has now written up his thoughts for the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine and invites thoughts on his blog, Reciprocal Space.
In the THE article he writes:
“The problems of measuring impact – however widely it is defined – are real, particularly with respect to evidence gathering. As a community, we should be wary of the process becoming a tail that wags the scientific dog. But I think there is no alternative but to engage as constructively as we can with the REF. It will not suffice to bleat at its inevitable flaws. We need to be more sophisticated and realistic when dealing with our political masters, who are the representatives of the public into whose purses we are permitted to dip… If nothing else, it will help us to assemble a fresh pile of stories about the success of UK science. Rightfully, it will also expose us to national problems and priorities that the country expects scientists to address.”
What do you think?
This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
Minister for Universities and Science, RH David Willetts MP, gave the third annual Gareth Roberts Memorial Lecture last night, held at the Royal Society of Medicine and organised by the Science Council. Here’s a brief storify of some of the key points.
The Minister, understandably, opened with positive statements, drawing on the encouraging messages from the days report on the International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base (http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/science/science-innovation-analysis/uk-research-base).
He made some interesting points about open access.
On capital funding, Willetts noted that six of the eight high priority capital funding projects from the Research Councils were to be funded, despite concerns about falling capital funding levels. Diamond Light Source is one of the projects.
He also announced a new technicians register. @OliOHanlon got his wish, if a litle later than hoped.
The Minister pointed out that those who leave the ‘academic pipeline’ are not necessarily lost to science, but did acknowledge a problem and referred to the recent Science is Vital report (http://scienceisvital.org.uk/2011/10/06/careering-out-of-control-a-crisis-in-the-uk-science-profession/).
And he didn’t get it all his own way with the last question either, as Imran Khan from the Campaign for Science and Engineering pinned him down with a question about long-term capital investment.
Update: Here’s the Pod delusion link – http://poddelusion.co.uk/blog/2011/10/20/david-willetts-on-science-policy-the-roberts-lecture-2011/
And a write-up at Nature blogs – http://blogs.nature.com/london/2011/10/20/london-science-festival-roberts-science-policy-lecture-with-david-willetts-mp
Update 2: And now the full text of the lecture – http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/speeches/david-willetts-gareth-roberts-science-policy-lecture-2011
This post was written by Michelle Brook, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer.
Last night David Willetts MP Minister for Universities and Science spoke at Cambridge University Science Society on the subject of “The Coalition’s Vision for Science and Technology”. Being an alumnus of the university and a life long member of the society, I thought I’d take the opportunity to listen to him speak to an almost exclusively academic audience – a very different one to that I typically hear him addressing.
Opening with an admission that the audience knows more about science than him, some of what Willetts had to say was expected: Cambridge was congratulated on being world class, and he emphasised that the university is deeply respected world wide. The world class nature of Cambridge (as well as a number of other English Universities) and the requirement to protect these academic institutes was stated as the reason increased tuition fees were being introduced. Once again the claim was made that the science budget has been protected in cash terms and ring-fenced – as opposed to the more accurate statement that the science resource budget has been protected in cash terms and ring – fenced, but that capital funding has not. The issue around immigration and visas was raised and Willetts stated that he is trying to negotiate with the Home Office on Tier 4 (or student) visas, and that he is optimistic that they will “reach a satisfactory outcome”. He said that he wanted to ensure properly qualified students will be able to enter the UK to attend British Universities, but also emphasised that there are abuses of the Tier 4 visa system at present which must be addressed .
Despite much of the content not being new – there were a number of points I considered worthy of note. Whilst emphasising the importance of evidence in policy, Willetts said that politicians often had to make judgements based upon incomplete evidence. He also emphasised that whilst the scientific evidence provided by physical and natural scientists is very important, that these subjects don’t provide the complete picture – and other disciplines are also vital.
I found it encouraging to hear Willetts explicitly aligning himself with the science community – stating that innovation was crucial, as was generation of the “economic impact that we need to convince the Treasury of the argument” for future financial support of UK science.
Willetts provided an economic definition of a cluster: “a low risk environment for high risk activities”, stating that the Cambridge area certainly constituted such a cluster. He added that whilst the government cannot create clusters, they can and should support them when they arise or have arisen, pointing out that clusters are infrastructure intensive – requiring, amongst other things good transport links. Although the presently closed Oxford-Cambridge railway line was not mentioned, given that Willetts said that it could be argued that Oxford, Cambridge and London are part of a larger cluster, an argument can be seen for the importance of re-opening this railway line to complete the triangle in this larger cluster.
Willetts referred to some research on STEM graduates and careers that is expected today (4th March 2011) – apparently we were the first audience to hear of the conclusions. Whilst businesses often complain there is a shortage of STEM graduates, the UK produces a significant number of STEM graduates – above the European average. However, less than half of these STEM graduates go on to STEM related employment. The research is expected to show that half way through their final year, 25% of undergraduates have not completed any job applications, and that there are high levels of uncertainty amongst these students as to what to do with their STEM qualification.
Willetts stated that this made these STEM graduates susceptible to recruit ment from other professions, such as consultancy, and that this was exacerbated by a very modest recruitment effort from SMEs. As such, large numbers of STEM graduates are lost from the scientific career pipeline. Whilst Willetts views it as desirable to be spreading scientific understanding into the wider populations, to his mind, this leaky STEM pipeline does cause problems for science.
Part of this “leaky pipeline” comes back to the oft stated incomplete careers advice, and I presume there will be encouragement from the government towards SME’s and universities to improve their attempts to retain science graduates as active researchers.
When I asked if he could give a ball park figure for how much the UKRC 2011- 2012 transitional funding would be (Annette Williams announced earlier this week that the UKRC had succeeded in wining some transitional funding from BIS), he said that “if he remembered correctly the figure was about £500,000″. He went on to state that when this money ended he hoped to see a continuation and strengthening of women networks such as STEM ambassadors and STEMNET.
One thing that really struck me during the question and answer session was that many of the questions being asked were those that people working within science policy had already asked of Government – many of the answers to which are in the public domain. There were many questions about immigration – such as the issues surrounding Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas, questions about the ACMD and why the government is trying to remove requirements for specific science based knowledge from the ACMD advisory panel. These are all excellent questions – but they are questions that have been asked many times before – in a variety of forums, including but not limited to Select Committees evidence sessions.
This made me think that as a community, the science policy world isn’t as good as it could and should be at disseminating information into the scientific community and wider public – scientific academics and students at Cambridge are a cohort that could and should know more about these issues which directly affect them. Whilst there appears to be increasing coverage of science policy issues in the media, somehow the information received by people working within policy isn’t being fed back effectively enough into the science community. As a Learned Society who relies on the opinion and expertise held within its membership, this is an issue we are working to address.
A more informed audience might have been able to ask more subtle and searching questions of David Willetts, rather than asking questions that have previously been raised.
They may also feel more reassured that some of the issues facing science, research and universities – such as immigration - are being addressed and that the opportunity has been provided by Government for significant input from the scientific community (particularly through those working in science policy) on many of these issues.
Surely an increased confidence of the science community that the government isn’t trying to destroy British science can only be a good thing?
This post was written by Michelle Brook, the Biochemical Society’s Science Policy Intern.
The use of the national facilities, such as ISIS, a pulsed neutron and muon source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboaratory, the Diamond Light Source and the Central Laser Facility (CLF) are of huge importance to scientists across scientific disciplines. They are used in a wide-range of programmes – from studying photo-induced nuclear reactions to solving protein structures. These facilities are operated and maintained by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
On the 19th Jan 2011 Chief Executives from four of the Research Councils gave evidence in front of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee on the topic of the Spending Review and Science Budget Allocations. The uncorrected transcript is available online to read or to listen to. In fairness, as of yet neither the witnesses nor Members of the Committee have had the opportunity to correct the record.
A quote of interest is from Professor Keith Mason (Chief Executive of STFC) who, in response to a question from Andrew Miller MP, stated “I think we have enough working capital to maintain existing facilities at the peak of their operation.” (9:34:06)
It is interesting to compare this statement with quotes from the STFC Delivery Plan, released in December 2010:
“We will operate the UK large national facilities to ensure agreed levels of access for the other Research Councils. This involves full exploitation of the Diamond Light Source and reduced operation of the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source and the Central Laser Facility. As part of this we will ensure their continued sustainability as world leading facilities” pg 1
“Ideally ISIS should operate for a higher number of days to maximise its world-leading science output and the return on UK investment.” pg. 12
“Under ideal circumstances, the Central Laser Facility should also operate at a higher capacity to maximise its world-leading science output supports a wide range of research, generating a large scientific output relative to its funding.” Pg. 12