Juggling practice

New science supremo Adrian Smith is keen to balance his roles in science and higher education and public engagement

May 1, 2008

The new Director-General of Science and Research at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is cut from a very different cloth from his predecessor.

Whereas Sir Keith O'Nions, who retired last month, had a background rooted firmly in scientific advice (he was Chief Scientific Adviser at the Ministry of Defence before taking the job), his replacement has a background as a leader in higher education.

Adrian Smith, who has been announced as Sir Keith's successor, hails from Queen Mary, University of London, where he has been its principal for the past ten years. He will take up the position in September.

It is an interesting choice on the part of DIUS, which brought together the management of the science budget and the management of the higher education budget in a single Whitehall department for the first time in 15 years when set up last summer.

"Whoever takes up this job inevitably brings the experience and perceptions that they have," said Professor Smith. "In my case, that is based on the past 20 years in Russell Group and 1994 Group research-intensive universities with day-to-day involvement in managing the consequences of government funding decisions."

Being Director-General of Science and Research is, according to the professor of statistics who was once head of Imperial College London's maths department, both "exciting and daunting". It is one of three top positions in the department below permanent secretary (there are also director-generals for higher and further education).

In the role, Professor Smith will be responsible for science and research spending policy - overseeing how the current £3.4 billion annual science budget, which includes the money going to the research councils, is allocated. He will also act as DIUS's own Chief Scientific Adviser and interact with the Government Office for Science (GO-Science). Headed by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, GO-Science is responsible to the Prime Minister but located within DIUS.

Yet the role, Professor Smith is keen to stress, also carries with it a responsibility for enhancing the understanding of science in society and improving public engagement with science. It is an element to the job he intends to take very seriously, believing that the "mood" is there to make strides.

There is "obviously a relationship" with this agenda and the take-up of science and maths in schools, he said. It will fall to him to ensure DIUS and the equally new Department for Children, Schools and Families are meeting in the middle.


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