Scientific 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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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 12:00 am, 19th January 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the implications of his policy for scientific research of the concept of curiosity-motivated research, adumbrated by Dr. Max Perutz FRS; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jackson:

We are reviewing our policies for the science base in the light of the Advisory Board for the Research Council's recommendations on strategy and our wide-ranging consultations on those. This includes consideration of what the ABRC, Dr. Perutz and others have said about the need to support curiosity-motivated research.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Whose side of the argument are Ministers on at this stage; that of Sir David Philips, or that of Dr. Perutz?

Mr. Jackson:

The Government are still listening to the various voices speaking on the matter. We are considering proposals made by the ABRC, and extensive representations made by numbers of other people. We have not yet reached any conclusions in the matter.

Photo of Mr Robert Rhodes James Mr Robert Rhodes James , Cambridge

Is my hon. Friend aware that what principally concerns my eminent constituent Dr. Perutz is the ludicrous concept put forward by the ABRC of three tiers of universities, the last of which would have no research at all? Is my hon. Friend aware that a university without research is a contradiction in terms, and can he categorically state that Her Majesty's Government will have nothing whatever to do with this nonsense and will reject this advice?

Mr. Jackson:

There is no doubt about the importance of the ABRC's advice that there is a need for continuing selectivity and concentration in our research effort. On the particular way of approaching that, for example by way of a multi-tier structure of universities, that is a question of the means of approaching the objective of selectivity. The Government are of course considering the proposal, but it does not necessarily follow that that is the appropriate way of doing it.

Photo of Dr Michael Clark Dr Michael Clark , Rochford

Does my hon. Friend agree that all good scientific research is based on curiosity and that the vast majority of scientists are motivated? Therefore, if he continues to support the science base, as he has indicated he will, will he concede that he will, therefore, by definition, be supporting curiosity-motivated research?

Mr. Jackson:

There is a requirement for curiosity-based research. Fundamental research is, as it were, the header tank that feeds applied research. That is why the Government support basic research, for example by a 6·2 per cent. increase in research council funding this year.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett , Leeds Central

While the Minister argues for selectivity in research, has he concluded that there will be universities without research activities and functions, and if he has come to that conclusion, does he find that acceptable for any of our universities?

Mr. Jackson:

The Government have reached no conclusions in the matter. The principle of the necessary presence of research in university institutions is one that the Government understand, although I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that more than half the students in higher education in this country are educated in institutions whose mission does not embrace basic research.