A three-pronged plan to take UK science and innovation to market

July 28, 2000

The white paper on science and innovation contains three main strands: enhancing the science base, innovation and knowledge transfer, and the public confidence in science.

Enhancing the science base

* A Pounds 4 million annual fund is to be set up to provide fellowships to attract and retain, with six-figure salaries, up to 50 of the world's top researchers. This initiative will be funded 50:50 by the Office of Science and Technology and the Wolfson Foundation and co-ordinated by the Royal Society. It aims to help the UK to compete in the world market for the best academics. Details are to be decided.

* A Science Ambassadors programme will encourage children to pursue careers in science and engineering. Top young scientists from universities and industry will be recruited to the scheme, which will complement the 2001-02 Science Year, announced last month.

* Also included are three previously announced measures: the Pounds 1 billion Science Research Investment Fund with the Wellcome Trust to improve infrastructure; Pounds 250 million for research in key areas such as post-genomics, and basic technology, including nanotechnology, quantum computing and bioengineering, announced in last week's comprehensive spending review (CSR); and funding to increase basic support for postgraduate research students to Pounds 9,000 a year over three years.

Innovation and knowledge transfer

* A Higher Education Innovation Fund of Pounds 140 million over three years will encourage universities to enhance knowledge transfer and work with industry. It will incorporate the Pounds 60 million Higher Education Reach Out to Business and the Community Fund, backed by the Department for Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Employment in partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Last week's CSR earmarked Pounds 80 million for promoting the commercialisation of research.

* Up to Pounds 15 million will be made available to part-fund collaborative projects to realise the ideas generated by the 13 Foresight 2000 panels. The panels are examining how many areas of life - from e-commerce and the food chain to health care and crime prevention - may develop in the future. Their recommendations are due in November and subsequently bids for the money will be invited.

* A new round of the University Challenge competition will provide a total of Pounds 15 million of seed funding to enable academics to turn their ideas into commercial prospects. A third of the money was announced in last week's CSR, with the remaining Pounds 10 million carried over from previous University Challenge rounds.

* The number of Faraday Partnerships will be doubled from four to eight a year. These partnerships bring universities and businesses together to tackle specific areas of research. The DTI will spend an extra Pounds 1.2 million over three years on the scheme and a further Pounds 1 million will come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

* An extra Pounds 15 million, announced in last week's CSR, will be spent on Science Enterprise Centres, which teach business skills, such as how to apply for a patent or secure venture capital, to academic scientists, from undergraduates to faculty. Universities will bid for funding.

* New Regional Innovation Funds, worth Pounds 50 million a year, will be available for regional development agencies via schemes to support clusters and incubators. This will build on previous initiatives to encourage knowledge-intensive clusters where research firms and academe in a particular region can create a mutually supportive environment.

* Twenty business fellows in UK universities will help their academic colleagues to work with business. Part of their time will be spent advising companies, especially small to medium-sized enterprises, on how technical and research solutions can solve their business problems.

* Science and innovation strategies will be published for all government departments with significant science and technology budgets. At present, only some of the 17 departments and agencies that fit this description do so. This will make science strategy more consistent while making more transparent attempts to cut back departmental science spending, a particular concern among many scientists.

* A Small Business Research Initiative will support small firms by encouraging them to procure research contracts with government departments and research council institutes. The target is for such businesses to gain contracts worth Pounds 50 million a year. This initiative seeks to follow similar schemes in the US that have been lauded as major successes.

* Government-funded research rules will be changed so research bodies, not government departments, own intellectual property rights. This will apply to government laboratories and research council institutes. New guidelines will be issued on incentives and risk-taking for staff in public sector research establishments, while Pounds 10 million, announced in last week's CSR, will be spent on commercialising research from government laboratories.

* The number of International Technology Promoters, who work abroad and seek to forge links between foreign innovators and UK business and academe, will be doubled from eight to 16. The network of science attaches in UK embassies will be extended.

Public confidence in science

* Stronger guidelines from the chief scientific adviser will direct the way in which scientific advice should be used in drawing up government policy, stressing aspects such as being clear about the degree of uncertainty a piece of advice might contain.

* A code of practice for all scientific advisory committees, committing them to high levels of openness and transparency in their work, will be published for a period of consultation. The white paper seeks to prompt a debate on aspects such as which committee meetings should be conducted in public. The results of the BSE inquiry and the House of Commons science and technology select committee inquiry into the scientific advisory system, both expected in the autumn, will help shape the code.

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