Academic Research

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 1988.

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Dr. Thomas:

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the state of academic research in United Kingdom universities.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The volume and influence of Britain's academic research is second only to that of the United States of America with its vastly larger resources. We are currently reviewing our policies for the science base so as to ensure that this national strength is maintained and enhanced into the 1990s and beyond.

Dr. Thomas:

Does the Secretary of State agree that this is unacceptable in view of the role of the University of Wales in the Welsh economy, with Wales getting only 1·8 per cent. of research council spending, although it has 5 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom? Will he accept that already, to make up for the deficit in research spending in Wales, additional expenditure of at least £20 million is required? Will he address the subject as the Minister responsible for higher education and for the research councils?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The hon. Gentleman should not be so disparaging about the quality of research in Welsh universities. In the UGC's survey Cardiff was considered to be outstanding in research in mathematics and mechanical engineering. The university nearest to his constituency, Bangor, was above average in oceanography and biomolecular electronics. The amount of research money that is devoted to individual departments depends upon their excellence. The excellent ones will attract more. That is really the whole thrust of the recent change in research funding.

Photo of Mr Hugo Summerson Mr Hugo Summerson , Walthamstow

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is proper co-ordination between the universities that are doing research into the atmosphere and the ozone layer?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

Yes. Important work is being done in individual university departments on these matters. The National Environmental Research Council also has programmes in these matters and has to some extent a coordinating role in them.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Can the Secretary of State explain why the morale of so many academics who are doing such excellent research is so low? Why do the Government seem only to approve of research only if it confirms their economic and political prejudices? Is it not essential that the Government pay full tribute to all our academics and build up their morale, because successful research is essential for the intellectual development of the nation.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I have tried to show my support for British science by securing an increase above the rate of inflation for next year of 6·2 per cent., from £658 million to £699 million. There were three reports on the brain drain last year which all showed that the brain drain had not worsened in 1987. I was glad to see that. By concentrating research in greater centres of excellence, which is a generally agreed policy, I think that we will get better research and more satisfied researchers. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I ask hon. Members to listen to the questions and the answers. Please let us have both brief questions and answers.