Industry input 'may weaken research'

October 13, 2006

Young scientists could find their research suffers under proposals for an industry-led advisory council to direct science funding in Wales, it was claimed this week.

A report from the Welsh Assembly's enterprise, innovation and networks committee has called for the creation of a Science and Technology Advisory Council, headed by industry leaders, to identify areas in which to concentrate investment in science and technology in Wales.

This should be part of a radical shake-up in how science is funded and co-ordinated in Wales, beginning with the creation of a science policy and the appointment of a chief science officer who would be a member of the advisory council, the report says.

But Tony Campbell, scientific director of Cardiff University's Darwin Centre and an academic adviser to the committee that compiled the report, argued that allowing industry to take the lead could be a missed opportunity.

Professor Campbell said a new science policy was needed to support scientists in discovery, invention, scholarship and their efforts to answer the big academic questions in their field.

He said: "We must have university scientists and engineers at the heart of any organisation that is determining science policy.

"It is important that our top scientists stay in their labs doing experiments and getting paid properly to do that. We don't want them getting tied up in writing business plans, designing websites or structuring companies."

But Gareth Morgan, head of Swansea University's School of Medicine, said that an industry-led strategy could significantly improve the working lives and career prospects of scientists.

He argued that closer links with industry would give research projects more focus on specific objectives.

"That is not always the way things are done when academia works alone.

There can be a tendency for academics to be diverted from the main aim. But when entering into a partnership with industry you have to be sharp and to understand your objectives," he said.

The report, which follows a year-long countrywide consultation, says that an industry-led council should within a year conduct a review of the strengths of Welsh research and technology and business investment in research and development in Wales.

It should then set strategic objectives for a science policy and a programme for achieving these goals, it says.

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