Labour think tank calls for ministry of research

September 29, 1995

Big cuts in Britain's military research and development spending, no further moves to privatise public sector research laboratories and the creation of a ministry for research are among the key recommendations made this week by a science policy think tank allied to the Labour Party.

In its wide-ranging discussion document, the Science, Engineering and Technology Forum says that the proportion of government spending on military research and development should be brought down to the average of the rest of Europe, and the savings put into civil research, particularly in regions reliant on military research.

A stoppage to further privatisation of public laboratories should be backed up by an new system of regulation and control of those research facilities that have already been privatised. The forum calls for a "reversal" of the recent transfer of the Office of Science and Technology to the Department of Trade and Industry. A new ministry for research, with responsibility for a "recast" Office of Science, Engineering and Technology, could provide a new home for the chief scientific adviser, who, with the relevant minister, would have direct access to Cabinet. The post of director-general of research councils should be abolished.

The forum says that diverting military research money to civilian or dual use research and technologies would require science policy decision-making to be extended beyond civil science. To enable this, the forum calls for the creation of a consultative body, the Central Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, to represent the interests of funders,suppliers and end-users. The forum's founders are Steven Rose, professor of biology at the Open University, and sociologist Hilary Rose.

Other recommendations include reviewing the function and effectiveness of the research assessment exercise, whose "discipline-based" approach is seen to hamper interdisciplinary work and tends to "freeze existing structures of past achievement rather than foster the rise of new ones."

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