Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-75)|
MP AND PROFESSOR
23 OCTOBER 2007
Q60 Chris Mole: Coming back to Brian's
point, RDAs have had that as an element of their mission since
the start of the new millennium. I suspect in Hertfordshire you
would find footprints of the RDA in what has happened there. Do
you think they are fulfilling that lead role in encouraging technology
clusters and links with universities?
Ian Pearson: RDAs have produced
regional innovation strategies for a number of years and again
I think their performance has been variable when it comes to the
extent that they have worked with universities. There are some
very good examples, having said that, and again I think we just
have to focus on how we continuously upgrade our performance,
and that is about how RDAs themselves can make sure that they
fully take into account science and innovation as part of the
new regional strategies that they are going to be producing. It
is also about universities looking at themselves as well and saying,
"Given our chosen mission, what more can we be doing?"
It is not about government dictating from the top "you must
do this". Universities are independent institutions. We happen
to provide them with quite a large sum of money but they make
their own decisions, and I think that they can see that it is
in their own and the country's interests that they look to work
with business wherever appropriate.
Q61 Chris Mole: To change the subject
slightly, the Sainsbury Review also states a belief that significant
opportunities are being missed to support innovation in the companies
with which the Government does business. I think procurement is
the angle that is being thought about particularly. How will you
seek to change this as Minister for Science and Innovation?
Ian Pearson: Sainsbury has a particular
recommendation when it comes to the Small Business Research Initiative.
When you look at how it operates at the moment, on the figures
we actually do quite well, the targets that have been set have
been exceeded, and perhaps if Evan were here for this he would
hear me say, well, actually I am not sure we have been measuring
the right thing, and although we have over-performed here, we
were not doing it in the right way! Sainsbury is saying that actually
this really does need to focus on innovation and R&D and at
the moment it just focuses on whether you are a small business.
The proposal there to change it so that it does focus on R&D
is going to be a quite a challenging one for us across government.
It is a recommendation in the Sainsbury Review that the TSB will
lead on this, and I am keen that we discuss with the TSB how we
can actually implement this recommendation.
Q62 Chris Mole: What else has changed
in procurement since the introduction of the Sustainable Procurement
Ian Pearson: We certainly have
a new head of the Office of Government Commerce. It is obviously
not my area of direct ministerial responsibility, but I think
the Sustainable Procurement Action Plan that was launched earlier
this year is a major step forward. We have been discussing within
government what more we can do on what they call the FPC model,
which is about Forward Procurement Commitment. This is the idea
that as a Government we say that we are interested in procuring
a particular type of good or service which may not exist currently
in the market-place, but if you can create one we will want to
buy it off you, and a number of people who have looked at this
suggest that this could be a good way forward in terms of encouraging
innovation across government. At the moment we are currently discussing
how we might be able to implement that model across government.
There is a lot of work in terms of training and development that
is going on as well since the publication of the action plan.
Just making sure that we have got skilled procurement professionals
right across government is a big challenge. I think it is £150
billion a year that we spend in the public sector on procurement.
Making sure that that is spent in the most effective way and making
sure that there is the scope for innovative procurement have got
to be priorities for us, and it is a huge training issue as well.
Q63 Chairman: Minister, this Committee
was very, very supportive of the Cooksey Review and we are pleased
that in the Comprehensive Spending Review arrangements were made
to roll out the Cooksey Review and to support it. I wonder if
you could tell us who is leading the process of implementation.
We have got new bodies being set upOSCHR obviously, the
Translational Medical Funding Board, the Public Health Research
Boardthree different new organisations; who is pulling
all this together so that it does not just become a bureaucratic
Ian Pearson: OSCHR, led by John
Bell, is pulling this together. It has been working on setting
up the Translational Medicines Board. There has been an interim
board of OSCHR and I think recommendations on appointments to
the board are going to go to ministers this week.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: For
the independent members.
Ian Pearson: For the independent
members of the board, but good progress overall is actually being
made. As part of the CSR settlement, there were additional sums
provided for us to be able to implement the Cooksey proposals
and we are now getting on with it. I think there are some tremendously
exciting opportunities in putting together in a single and co-ordinated
way the funding that is being provided by the Medical Research
Council and the funding that is being provided by the National
Institute for Health Research.
Q64 Chairman: So the organisation
is OSCHR and under John Bell it is pulling those two boards together
and that is the reporting mechanism, through OSCHR?
Ian Pearson: Often with these
things the clue is in the title. OSCHR is about strategic co-ordination
and that is exactly the role that OSCHR is providing. John Bell
will be working closely with the new Chief Executive of the Medical
Research Council and their board and with the Department of Health
Q65 Chairman: Okay. How are you resolving
the difficulties of reporting to two different government departments?
What strategies have you put in place to actually deal with that?
Ian Pearson: I will ask Keith
to deal with this because Keith is directly involved.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
have been there from the beginning, as it were. OSCHR is chaired
by John Bell who is the permanent Chairman, but on that board
at an official level there is myself, really representing DIUS;
and there is Sally Davies representing the Department of Health;
then there are the representatives for both the Medical Research
Council and the National Institute of Health Research. So in effect
all of the connections back to host departments are there at the
DG level. There are also three independents, who ministers will
get advice on, to be appointed soon. I think that is proving to
be very effective. In terms of reporting back and getting two
secretaries of state now to agree for example on recommendations
for independent members to OSCHR, we just have a rather simple
process through the OSCHR office for myself and Sally Davies in
Health to submit simultaneously and use the same submissions to
ministers. I think it is pretty light touch and no more bureaucratic
than it needs to be to do the job with two accounting officers
owning the vote.
Q66 Chairman: Traditionally, Sir
Keith, and I think you would perhaps accept this, departments
have tended to be silos, and this is a very, very significant
initiative where you have got two major departments actually coming
together to deliver a really major thrust in terms of health care.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Absolutely.
Q67 Chairman: Do you envisage any
problems at the secretary of state level? My question really to
the Minister is do the secretaries of state actually meet to interface
directly over this issue or is it just simply done by officials?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: We
have done so in the past, there has been ministerial contact to
get this going. From Ian's point of view, it helps enormously
that there are two ring-fenced budgets here. The Medical Research
Council budget is ring-fenced as is the NIHR budget for the first
time ring-fenced, so that really takes away some of the tensions
that may exist between departments where other priorities may
Ian Pearson: I will have regular
meetings with John Bell. I have met him already since taking over
this job as Science Minister. I will also meet with my counterpart
in the Department of Health as well.
Q68 Chairman: Do the three of you
ever meet together? Have you ever met together?
Ian Pearson: We have not yet in
the three months so far, but I have got no doubt that we will
do in the future.
Q69 Chairman: It might be a good
idea. One of the areas we were concerned about as a Committee
was the comments in the Cooksey Report about UK Priority Projects,
and there was a concern which the Committee had, on which, to
be fair, we received very, very supportive responses from David
Cooksey, that in fact the NHS research would dictate the priorities
for Medical Research Council research. Have you identified any
of those UK Priority Projects yet and, if so, what are they?
Ian Pearson: Let me say something
in general terms and then Keith will say something more on the
detail. The first thing I want to do is to put on record the fact
that David Cooksey did a terrific job
Q70 Chairman: We agree.
Ian Pearson: and the issue
for us is to get on and implement the recommendations which I
think will really enhance our capabilities in this area. The second
thing I wanted to say is that when you look at the funding that
will be provided in this area through the MRC and NIHR, I think
it will be totalling £1.7 billion a year. It is a huge investment
that we are making in medical science and we need to make sure
that the co-ordination is not just between MRC and NIHR but we
that also co-ordinate with the various medical research charities.
Around one third of total health research is actually funded through
medical charities. Making sure we get all that right is obviously
a key overall priority. Do you want to say something Keith?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Yes,
going to your question, the Translational Medicine Board which
sits beneath OSCHR, is the key board at the moment for putting
together joint research programmes between the Medical Research
Council and NIHR. It has got currently four working groups in
different areas. Just to give you the details. One of them, a
joint working group between MRC and NIHR, is on experimental medicine,
and it has already been made clear that MRC will have the lead
on that. MRC ultimately will have the lead on that whole programme
even though it is being contributed to from two sources, and that
is quite far advanced in programmatic terms and it is probably
not very far away from being published as an experimental medicine
programme. There is one on methodology, another one on clinical
trials and evaluation, and the clinical trials one is going to
be led by NIHR. Then there is a fourth one which is really somewhat
behind in terms of maturity, and that is on public health research
where there is a Public Health Research Board. There is quite
a lot that has been going on well in advance of the CSR settlement.
I am very optimistic that this is going to start delivering really
Chairman: Thank you very much and finally
we come to Chris and STEM development.
Q71 Chris Mole: I think there is
a general consensus, Ian, that we need more science and technology,
engineering and maths output from the education system coming
through into our economy. There seem to be positive shoots, shall
we say, at different stages of the education systema recovery
on A level biology, maths and chemistry, although physics still
looks concerning. What plans do you have to work closely with
your colleagues in the DCSF to further promote STEM at A level?
Ian Pearson: We work closely at
ministerial level. We have regular meetings which will involve
Jim Knight, Bill Rammell and myself. There is a clear STEM agenda
in terms of the work that we are doing. The Sainsbury Review again
makes a number of recommendations in this area that we will be
taking forward as a Government. It is good that we have started
to see some progress. I think it is too early to judge how much
the work we have done has been influencing results, from what
we have been doing on the teaching side to what we have been doing
in schools. The fact that we have got 250 science and engineering
clubs and we are going to double that over the next few years,
and I would like to see us go further; the fact that we are pretty
close to reaching our target of 18,000 science and engineering
ambassadors, who are people mostly in their 20s who are working
in industry or the public sector in science and engineering who
are going into schools and enthusing our young people about science
and engineering and explaining to them the career possibilities;
there is lots of good work that is going on at the moment. We
need to keep working at it because this is not just a problem
in the UK, it is a problem right across Europe as well, and for
the United States. It seems to be only China and India that seem
to be pumping out vast quantities of scientists and engineers
at the moment.
Q72 Chris Mole: I suppose one could
argue about the quality that is coming out and that might be affected
by the qualifications of the teachers teaching things like GCSE
physics where NFER have told us that only a small proportion of
them actually have specialist training. Where do you think current
recruitment drives might succeed where previous ones have failed?
Ian Pearson: I think there are
some encouraging signs. We are seeing more people wanting to do
maths, chemistry and physics at university level. The most recent
figures show that applications are up by around about 10% in each
of those areas, and that is good. We have started to see more
people entering teacher training: 3,390 last year as opposed to
2,590 in 2000-01, and again that is quite a big difference. I
think the £9,000 bursaries and the £5,000 golden hello
is really helping to make a difference. It is going to take a
bit of time to get this right. There is a small programme as well
that is being run at the moment to give teachers time out to do
an accredited course, and they will get paid a cash incentive
of £5,000 if they get this course and then come back into
teaching. DCSF are funding that and they are funding the staff
cover while this accredited training goes on. It is a relatively
small course but, again, it is trying to address the issue that
in particular we do not have enough qualified physics teachers
in our schools.
Q73 Dr Iddon: Last Friday I spent
a very pleasurable day sitting in classes where they were teaching
21st Century Science with Jennifer Burden, who is one of the key
architects of that new syllabus, and I was full of appreciation
not only for the way that the teachers were dealing with the classes
but for the enthusiasm of the students in the classes I was sitting
in. We talked to teachers and we talked to pupils afterwards,
so there is no doubt in my mind that 21st Century Science is beginning
to have an impact. In the two schools that we visited there were
more people choosing to go into the A level science courses as
a result of this new way of teachingit is brilliantbut
the problem is, I am told by the University of York, that there
is no money to assess these courses or to monitor the impact that
they are having. Would you consider that, please, with your equivalent
ministers in the other department responsible?
Ian Pearson: I am certainly happy
to discuss with colleagues in DCSF if there are funding issues
related to assessment and evaluation. I have not sat in on a class
yet but I would be keen to do so in the future. Certainly from
what I have heard this new course is perceived as being a lot
more relevant to young people.
Dr Iddon: If I may say, there are several
new courses and I think it is important to try and find out which
course is having the maximum impact and perhaps persuade the teaching
profession to use the best of these courses rather than all of
them, but it is important to use them all now.
Q74 Chris Mole: Finally, Ian, the
Sainsbury Review also refers to the fact that half of all physics
teachers leave within five years of starting to teach that subject.
Is this a severe problem and is it something that you are planning
Ian Pearson: Certainly physics
teachers is the area where I think there is the biggest problem
in our schools. If you look at maths and chemistry, there are
certainly issues there, but the problem is worse when it comes
to physics. We need to do what we can to recruit and retain and
make sure that physics teachers are motivated and want to continue
to have a career in education. These people are mobile and they
have skills that are in high demand. It is going to be a constant
struggle, but I think what we have been trying to do through providing
bursaries and providing golden hellos is an appropriate response
for us as a Government to try and make sure that we have more
qualified physics teachers in our schools
Q75 Chairman: Investing in teachers
and their continuous professional development is absolutely key.
Science is fast changing and I wonder if you would like to comment
on the science learning centres which were set up by the Government
and the Wellcome Trust, particularly the National Centre at York,
which are suddenly running into the buffers because the initial
funding was there in terms of capital development to set up the
centres and in terms of revenue support they now very much depend
on schools actually releasing science teachers to go along. The
schools have to pay for cover, there is no money available for
that, so therefore the numbers of science teachers are declining
in going to these centres. It is an incredible waste of a fantastic
resource and I wonder if (a) you would comment on that and (b)
whether you would do something about it?
Ian Pearson: I agree that science
learning centres provide an important resource for teachers. I
personally would want to ensure that they continue to operate
effectively. I am not aware that there are big problems when it
comes to science learning centres, but I will certainly take away
the points that you have made and talk to colleagues in DCSF about
Chairman: Because they are brilliant.
With that, could I thank you very much indeed, Ian Pearson MP,
Minister of Science, and Professor Sir Keith O'Nions.