Select Committee on Science and Technology

No. 54a of Session 2006-07 31 July 2007



The UK must adapt its research support mechanisms in order to respond to changes in the international research scene as countries such as China and India rapidly expand their research bases.

This is the conclusion of the Science and Technology Committee in its Report published today, into the International Policies and Activities of the Research Councils.

The Committee considered the schemes organised by the Government, Research Councils, learned societies and others that support international research activities. It acknowledged that the Research Councils had already taken steps to develop their international work, developing an over-arching strategy, creating a Research Councils UK (RCUK) international team, and establishing more offices overseas. However, the Committee found that the Research Councils’ activities still lacked co-ordination and were not sufficiently high-profile. It recommended that RCUK drive cross-Council co-ordination and communication between the Research Councils, Royal Society, British Council and others.

To address the difficulties faced by researchers seeking funding for international work, the Committee recommended the establishment of a small central fund for travel grants and visiting fellowships to be administered by RCUK using simple application methods. The Committee also wants to see the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills invest more money in developing international partnerships, particularly in following up initiatives.

The Committee found that the level of outward mobility of researchers was relatively low and recommended that the Research Councils undertake a study to explore the reasons why researchers decide to remain in the UK.

Commenting on the Report, the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, Phil Willis MP, said: “It is crucial that UK researchers are able to collaborate internationally and the Research Councils need to support them appropriately.”

“We hope that our Report and the RCUK new strategy will be the beginning of a more high-profile, coherent, and co-ordinated approach by the Research Councils to international work.”

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Notes to editors:

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Science and Technology Committee is empowered to examine the “expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Innovation and its associated public bodies”. The Committee was appointed on 19 July 2005.

• This inquiry was announced on 5 March 2007 in Press notice No 22 of session 2006-07

• The Committee held an evidence session on: Wednesday 9 May when evidence was heard from Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council, Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive, Economic and Social Research Council, Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive, Science and Technology Facilities Council, and Dr Randal Richards, Acting Chief Executive, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; on Wednesday 6 June when evidence was heard from Professor Stuart Palmer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick, Professor Alan Jenkins, Director of the Water Science Programme, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Professor Lorna Casselton FRS, Foreign Secretary and Vice-President, and Dr Bernie Jones, Head of International Policy, The Royal Society, and Dr Lloyd Anderson, Director, Science, The British Council; and on Wednesday 20 June when evidence was heard from Professor Sir Keith O’Nions, Director General of Science and Innovation, Department of Trade and Industry.

Membership of the Committee

Mr Phil Willis (Lib Dem, Harrogate and Knaresborough)(Chairman)
Adam Afriyie (Con, Windsor)
Mrs Nadine Dorries (Con, Mid Bedfordshire)
Mr Robert Flello (Lab, Stoke-on-Trent South)
Linda Gilroy (Lab/Co-op, Plymouth Sutton)
Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Dr Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton South East)
Chris Mole (Lab, Ipswich)
Graham Stringer (Lab, Manchester, Blackley)
Bob Spink (Con, Castle Point)
Dr Desmond Turner (Lab, Brighton Kemptown)