The education and employment departments should join forces with the research councils to launch a major initiative aimed at bringing the information technology revolution to bear on all schools, colleges and universities, according to a Foresight report published yesterday.
The information technology and electronics Foresight panel - one of a second batch of five issued yesterday - suggests two immediate actions to enhance the United Kingdom's IT capability.
The panel wants the Government to launch a "UK Millennium Accelerator Programme" to develop special courseware and teacher training programmes to promote IT literacy in schools and industry. It also wants the Government to consider connecting all schools, colleges and universities to networks such as SuperJanet or Internet and to develop distance learning modules and reference materials in various subjects.
Other key recommendations include the launch of a information superhighway initiative to develop standards for intellectual property, security and access. The report recommends greater investment in the deployment of the highway in the UK. Research councils are also to be urged to set up centres of excellence where researchers in universities and firms can collaborate in key areas such as semiconductors, display technology and electronic media.
The food and drink panel says the UK should exploit the growing capability of biotechnology to modify the properties of agricultural products. Other key science and technology priorities for a competitive industry include research into links between diet and health, the relationship between food quality and processing, psychology of consumer choice and food quality.
The manufacturing, production and business processes panel holds that technological capability in areas such as new sensors and controls, modelling and simulation, material processes and improved process plant technology will be crucial for underpinning the sectors. It also wants to see action to improve infrastructure particularly in education, transport, deregulation and finance. Research councils should emphasis generic technologies and the funding councils should change their research assessment criteria to assist industrial collaboration.
The materials manufacturing and processing industry, which plays a vital role for all of UK industry, should expect continuing incremental advances in products and processes. The materials panel also wants greater investment, in particular in processes which improve the environment and which have applications in health care. Science and technology priorities include improved models for relating composition, structure and process to final performance, "biomaterials" which help repair of body tissue and processing of high temperature superconducting materials.
UK expertise in biomaterials should be harnessed by research jointly funded by the Medical Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. To improve the education of materials scientists at degree level, the funding councils should consider the need for more interdisciplinary courses.
The communications sector, including telecommunications, radiocommunications and broadcasting accounted for 6 per cent of the UK's GDP in 1990. The communication panel expects rapid growth over the next decade.
The panel report recommends that funding for telecommunications R&D should be substantially increased for work in industry and universities.
Long-term technology objectives for scientists and engineers include expertise in digitalisation, broad band networks and intelligent networks.