Select Committee on Science and Technology First Report


    (a)  There is an overwhelming case for a substantial real terms increase in Government expenditure on research over and above that which is required to make good the shortfall identified[1] later as an investment in the nation's future (paragraph 11).

    (b)  We find the arguments in support of the dual support system for allocating public funds to university research overwhelming and endorse the overall conclusion in the Dearing Report that it should be retained (paragraph 18).

    (c)  We recommend that the Government reject the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education's proposals for establishing a revolving loans fund to support research infrastructure (paragraph 29).

    (d)  We accept that not all the money attracted from industry by the Joint Research Equipment Initiative is new money and are convinced that, in isolation, the Initiative will not solve the funding crisis in research infrastructure. Nevertheless, we welcome the Joint Research Equipment Initiative and the fact that it is to become an annual event as it will provide significant additional resources (paragraph 32).

    (e)  While we do not ignore the responsibility that the Research Councils, and therefore by implication the Office of Science and Technology, have for contributing towards infrastructure where the work they fund places demands upon it, we are clear that this is primarily a matter for the Higher Education Funding Councils and therefore for the Department for Education and Employment and the corresponding departments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (paragraph 34).

    (f)  We are convinced that there is still a real and urgent need for the Government to provide additional resources to resolve the immediate crisis in research infrastructure in the UK's universities. We recommend that this issue be treated with the utmost priority in the Comprehensive Spending Review. We further recommend that the Government allocate a total of between £410 and £430 million of new money, earmarked for research infrastructure, over the next three public expenditure rounds (paragraph 35).

    (g)  We recommend that the Research Councils should pay the full indirect costs, excluding academic staff salaries, of the research which they fund in universities (paragraph 39).

    (h)  We recommend that the Research Councils agree with universities, rates for indirect costs which recognise that such costs may vary from one type of research to another (paragraph 40).

    (i)  We recommend that all increased expenditure incurred by the Research Councils as a result of paying a higher rate for indirect costs be matched by increased Government funding for the Research Councils (paragraph 41).

    (j)  We recommend that the Higher Education Funding Councils examine the operation of the Research Assessment Exercise with a view to ensuring that it only rewards those institutions which attract grants and commissions for research on terms which provide for the meeting of the full economic costs either in cash or in kind (paragraph 47).

    (k)  We recommend that the Government, as a priority, ensures that all UK funders of university research outside the dual support system pay the full economic costs of that research with full allowance made for contributions in kind (paragraph 56).

    (l)  We endorse the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education's recommendation that "institutions ... develop and implement arrangements which allow staff and external bodies to have access to, and understand the true costs of research". We recommend that this should be achieved over the next three years (paragraph 57).

    (m)  We recommend that the Government continue its attempts to introduce some flexibility, to allow funding of indirect costs beyond 20% where appropriate, into the European Commission's Framework Programmes (paragraph 58).

    (n)  It is of the utmost importance that the Research Assessment Exercise should reward research undertaken in collaboration at least equally with that done by a single department or institution. We are, therefore, disappointed that the Dearing Report made no specific recommendations about funding for collaborative research and that the consultation exercise launched last November by the Higher Education Funding Councils on the operation of 1996 Research Assessment Exercise made no specific reference to collaborative research (paragraph 65).

    (o)  We recommend that the Funding Bodies and the Research Councils review all their funding procedures, including but not exclusively the Research Assessment Exercise and peer review, to identify any areas where collaborative, inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research may be disadvantaged and then put forward and consult widely on options for change. Results from the current consultation on the Research Assessment Exercise should be used to inform, but not replace, parts of that review (paragraph 68).

    (p)  We have grave reservations about the principle and practicality of any funding mechanism that relies on a distinction between scholarship and research (paragraph 71).

    (q)  We strongly endorse the conclusions of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education that university departments must make strategic assessments of their research activities and that departments whose strengths lie in teaching should not be inhibited from pursuing teaching excellence; but we cannot support its proposals for a per capita fund which are in principle wrong and in practice would be ineffective. The best way to achieve an appropriate balance between teaching and research is to enhance the status of, and reward for, good teaching rather than to undermine the pursuit of research excellence (paragraph 74).

    (r)  In an era when much of the justification for deploying public funds in support of the research base rests on the economic and social benefits of research, the Research Assessment Exercise should make some recognition of research applied in these areas (paragraph 76).

    (s)  We recommend that the Funding Bodies identify and evaluate the ways in which applied research can be more easily recognised and adequately rewarded and implement changes in the next Research Assessment Exercise (paragraph 77).

    (t)  We urge the Higher Education Funding Councils to consider and implement means by which the tendency of the Research Assessment Exercise to encourage short-termism in research planning can be removed without extending the interval between Research Assessment Exercises to a duration inconsistent with robust financial management and accountability (paragraph 78).

    (u)  We see little benefit and considerable risk in moving to a rolling programme of research assessment, the advantages of which are far from proven (paragraph 80).

    (v)  We endorse the principle of international validation of Research Assessment Exercise ratings but cannot support the prescriptive recommendation of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education that all panels should have international membership. We believe that the Funding Bodies should have discretion in this respect (paragraph 83).

    (w)  On balance we have concluded that the current level of selectivity is broadly acceptable and that, given the importance of fostering new talent and pursuing blue skies research, any moves towards greater selectivity would be unwise (paragraph 88).

    (x)  We endorse the recommendation of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education that a code of practice on training for post-graduate research students, monitored by the Quality Assurance Agency, should be introduced as soon as possible and that Higher Education Funding Council funding for new post-graduate studentships should be dependant on compliance with that code of practice from 2000-2001 onwards (paragraph 90).

    (y)  We find, on balance, that we agree with the Dearing Report: while exposure to high-quality research and research practice is obviously an essential part of research training we agree that other factors, such as teaching quality, should also play a part in determining where to direct funding for post-graduate research training (paragraph 91).

    (z)  We recommend that the Quality Assurance Agency, where appropriate, involve industrial representatives in the drawing up of a code of practice on post-graduate training (paragraph 92).

    (aa)  Ensuring adequate funding for the research base in the long term is the only way to reverse the increase in short-term appointments. If implemented, our recommendations will enable institutions to make commitments to long-term funding for posts and therefore to reduce the proportion of their staff on short-term contracts. We would urge them to do so (paragraph 95).

    (bb)  While we do not consider that it is for us, as the Science and Technology Committee, to comment in detail on the precise arrangements for public support of research in the arts and humanities, we endorse, in principle, the establishment of an Arts and Humanities Research Council and welcome the Government's commitment to consider this in the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review (paragraph 97).

    (cc)  We strongly recommend that the Government should reject any proposals that the Arts and Humanities Research Council should be placed within the structure of the Office of Science and Technology (paragraph 98).

    (dd)  We, like the majority of our witnesses, are unable to see any significant benefits in an Industrial Partnership Development Fund above and beyond those already delivered by existing schemes. (paragraph 101).

    (ee)  We recommend that the Government investigate whether greater use could be made of the LINK scheme to reduce confusion caused by the large number of Government initiatives designed to promote research collaboration between industry and academia (paragraph 102).

    (ff)  It seems obvious to us, if companies are to be asked to enter into a partnership or a collaboration, that they should be consulted on the basis of that partnership and therefore strongly endorse the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education's suggestion that "in future, Government departments should consult with industry before introducing shared cost schemes" (paragraph 103).

    (gg)  We endorse the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education's recommendation that the Joint Information Systems Committee should permanently fund and manage electronic communications and information services for researchers and should introduce charges for those services based on volume of usage (paragraph 106).

    (hh)  We understand that the Funding Bodies have already asked for costed options for the provision of protected international bandwith to be produced. We welcome this (paragraph 107).

    (ii)  We recommend that the enhanced role, extended membership and advice of the Council for Science and Technology is disseminated widely so that its work carries the confidence of the wider research community (paragraph 110).

    (jj)  We are unconvinced of the need for an advisory council for national research policy as envisaged in the Dearing Report (paragraph 111).

    (kk)  We recommend that the Government, before considering the need for an advisory council on national research policy as envisaged in the Dearing Report, conduct a rigorous analysis of the mechanisms that are already in place and ensure that they are working properly (paragraph 112).

1  See paras 35 and 41. Back

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