Abolition of stc sparks fears for future of science policy

August 3, 2007

There are fears that science policy will not be subject to proper Parliamentary scrutiny following the abolition of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee (STC) after the Government proposed replacing it with a smaller sub-committee.

The STC's abolition followed the Prime Minister's decision to move science from the Department of Trade and Industry into the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The Education and Skills Committee has also been dissolved, and two new committees will be formed, to mirror the DIUS and the new Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, announced in the Commons last week that the new Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee would have 14 members rather than 11 and could set up a science sub-committee as successor to the STC.

The STC worked on a cross-departmental basis, and Ian Pearson, Minister for Science and Innovation, told The Times Higher this week that the new science and technology committee would retain this power. But STC chairman Phil Willis said there were "serious restrictions" to a sub-committee's powers. A sub committee would be unable to produce its own reports, and its chair could not sit on the liaison committee, which grills the Prime Minister on public policy.

* Meanwhile, a report from the STC this week said that more money was needed to make the UK an attractive international research partner again and criticised research councils' international activities as lacking both co ordination and visibility.

The old Office of Science and Innovation's international collaborative schemes, on which at least £5.4 million was spent in 2006, were not being properly followed up, and relationships created through the schemes were in danger of withering, the report said.

* A report from the education select committee has raised concerns about the Government's approach to skills and warned that the DIUS must not focus too heavily on universities. "It is imperative that skills policy remains a central concern," the report says.

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