Greg Clark has declined to rule out the possibility that a review of the research councils could result in mergers.
The universities, science and cities minister also rejected suggestions that the Science and Innovation strategy, published last month, disappointed by failing to commit to long-term spending goals.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Mr Clark said the document – titled Our Plan for Growth: Science and Innovation, published by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – “is the clearest possible evidence that the government sees science and research, and innovation, as an investment in the future of the country”.
The review of the research councils, which follows a triennial review that reported only in April, was announced on 17 December, the same day the strategy was launched.
Mr Clark said that when formulating the strategy there was “no point in identifying important challenges that we need to address if you say ‘we’re just going to let that sit on the shelf because the regular review was done a few months ago’ ”. Asked if the review – to be led by Sir Paul Nurse – could mean mergers, Mr Clark said: “I respect very deeply the principle that ministers should not direct scientists and researchers in this.”
Addressing concerns that the strategy did not set out spending goals, Mr Clark said it “was never a spending review document”.
The launch of the strategy, initially planned to accompany the Autumn Statement, had been delayed. Some suggest that Vince Cable, the business secretary, had been due to launch the strategy on 12 December at the Royal Academy of Engineering. Although the strategy did not emerge, he used his speech to call for the next government to commit to match the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average spend of 2.4 per cent of GDP on research and development.
Asked if that indicated tensions in the coalition, Mr Clark said that Mr Cable’s speech was “never going to be about the launch of the strategy”. He added: “Vince and I are totally eye to eye on the strategy, as indeed is the chancellor.”