Beckett deflates cash hopes

October 31, 1997

Higher education should not expect more money from industry, Margaret Beckett, president of the board of trade, said this week.

She told the House of Lords select committee on science and technology that although she would like to think Sir Ron Dearing was right in identifying industry as an untapped source of higher education funding, she had her doubts.

Mrs Beckett said that she understood the views of industry groups that they should not be doing the government's job by providing more money for universitybuildings.

Mrs Beckett, giving evidence for the first time, added that although some government industry university infrastructure schemes had been very successful, she did not see that this idea could be translated into solving underfunding problems in general.

The government was looking at the different options for filling a Pounds 110 million a year funding gap that Sir Ron Dearing's committee of inquiry said had been created by research councils not paying full indirect costs for university research.

Sir John Cadogan, director general of the research councils, explained that if the research councils were made to pay full costs, it would mean no new research grants or studentships in the first year, and in the longer term there would be a fall of 20 per cent in the amount of work the councils could support.

Lord Flowers, a member of the committee, made a plea that the money should not be taken from the funding council budget, which ensured universities had flexibility in research and were able to help young researchers.

Mrs Beckett said she was unable to indicate the government's view yet, but added: "I can quite see there is a danger of robbing Peter to pay Paul."

She said the government, in line with its policy of reviewing systems in place, was taking careful stock of its advisory Council for Science and Technology.

But John Battle, minister for science, said the council needed to be revitalised and given increased prominence. He suggested he would like to see the council working in a more focused way, giving advice on a smaller number of topics, including higher education research.

Mrs Beckett said she was not satisfied with the number of young people opting for a career inscience and stressed the importance of getting the best people into such jobs.

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