I spent a day here in Bristol last year, talking to
members of Bristol Neuroscience about their work. This was hugely
enjoyable from my point of view because I think cognitive neuroscience
is one of the most exciting research areas today. During this visit
Bridget Lumb told me of this Joint Meeting of the Physiological Society
and the Federation of European Physiological Societies, and invited me
to come and speak to you this evening, and I was delighted to be able to
I would like to start by saying that the present
UK Government believes that science and technology is of critical
importance to wealth creation and improving the quality of our lives,
and we are determined to make the U.K. one of the best places in the
world for science and innovation.
To raise our level of innovation and to meet the
Grand Challenges we face in areas such as the environment and health, we
look to the research base and universities for three things: world class
science; knowledge transfer; and a supply of creative young scientists
Let me say a word about each of these areas in
turn, starting with world-class basic research. As I’m sure you know the
Government has put major extra resources into basic research, increasing
the science budget from £1.3 billion in 1997/8 to £3.4 billion by
2007/8. This currently includes £500m a year for the renewal of
scientific facilities in universities.
I would like to say something about the funding
of research on a European level. The UK recognises that we need to
collaborate on a European level to enhance research and development if
we are to have any chance of attaining the Lisbon goals of creating the
most competitive and knowledge based economy in the world by 2010.
The EU’s main instrument for funding research,
technology and innovation, the Framework Programme, is central to
creating a European Research Area and in meeting these objectives.
As most of you will be aware the UK took over
the Presidency of EU on 1 July. This comes at a key stage of the seventh
Framework Programme negotiations and we will aim to put in place the
right framework programme to stimulate such investment, in order to
create the right climate for research and innovation in Europe. Every
effort at the UK Presidency’s disposal will be directed towards making
progress on Framework Programme 7 (FP7) so that this crucial instrument
of Community research policy is ready by 2007 and able to lever the
step-change in research and development that we need by 2010.
As Presidency we also seek to ensure that the
proposal for a basic research element in FP7 delivers an European
Research Council (ERC) which is independent, and where decisions are
made by peer review and solely on the basis of excellence. The structure
of the ERC, the role of the Scientific Council, the relationship with
other EU institutions and ERC’s decision making processes are clearly
crucially important to ensure the credibility and independence of the
ERC in the scientific world. In this connection we were greatly
encouraged by the list of distinguished scientists which has been chosen
by Lord Patten’s committee to be the first members of the Science
Council, and who have agreed to serve. As Presidents we will be working
with our partners in the Council as well as with the Commission and the
Parliament to resolve all these outstanding issues so that the ERC can
be up and running in time for the start of FP7.
The second area where the UK Government has made
some important policy changes is in the area of Knowledge Transfer.
We have introduced a number of schemes to
encourage knowledge transfer, the main one being the Higher Education
Innovation Fund which provides incentives for universities to transfer
knowledge to industry.
These programs have been very successful in
stimulating more knowledge transfer from universities in terms of
licensing, patents, spin-off companies and contract work for industry.
To take one figure, the market value of university spinouts floated on
the stock market in 2004 was £604 million, £100 million more than the
Government’s total investment in Knowledge Transfer to date.
The third area I would like to mention is the
supply of creative young scientists and engineers.
In spite of what people say, there is no problem
in this country in terms of the overall number of young people studying
for science and technology degrees. Today there are 120,000 more young
people studying for science and technology degrees than in 1997/98 and
the percentage of the total number of students taking science and
technology degrees has gone up from 38% to 41%. These include large
increases in those studying the biological sciences but also a 78%
increase in those studying computer sciences and a welcome 38% increase
in those studying mathematics.
The physical sciences have remained fairly
constant at 50,000 and the only area where there has been a fall in the
number of students studying is for engineering and technology degrees,
where the number has fallen from 87,000 in 1997/98 to 80,000 in
1999/2000 though this figure seems to have stabilised at this level. It
is clear from these figures that we have a specific problem in
engineering and technology, and I believe that the main problem here is
that young people do not see engineering as exciting and as part of the
new knowledge intensive economy.
In the U.K. we regard the strength of our
scientific and technological research as a major national asset. With
only 1% of the world’s population, we produce 5% of the world’s science
which generates 11% of the scientific papers in the world and 12% of all
the citations of those papers, including 13% of the most cited. We are
second only to the USA for total Nobel Prize winners and have a proud
history of important discoveries including penicillin and the double
However, if we in the UK do 5% of the world’s
science, it follows that 95% is done elsewhere, and we believe that if
we are to stay at the cutting edge of modern science we need to
In the last two decades we have seen a surge in
scientific collaboration within and across national boundaries. More
than half of all scientific articles were co-authored in 1999 compared
with 33% in 1986. During the same period the share of international
co-authored articles rose from 7% to 17% of all publications. In other
words more than one third of co-authored articles were internationally
Therefore, to stay at the leading edge of world
science and innovation we need to collaborate internationally and we
have taken a number of important steps to increase the collaboration of
British Scientists with overseas partners.
Our vision in the government is that the UK
should be a key hub in the global knowledge economy. This means that we
should be a country famed not only for our outstanding record of
discovery but also for innovation, a country that invests heavily in
business R&D and education and skills, and exports high-tech goods and
services to the world. A country with strong science and technology
links with the best research around the world: that can stay always at
the leading edge.
It is, I think, a very ambitious vision but it
is one that the government is committed to achieving in the years ahead.