MPs put science bodies in dock

August 2, 2002

The UK's leading science and engineering bodies discriminate against academics in emerging disciplines and in universities outside Oxford, Cambridge and London, according to MPs.

The House of Commons science and technology committee also highlighted their lack of ethnic monitoring, accusing them of having a "head-in-the-sand attitude to the current political climate".

The MPs were investigating government funding of learned societies, focusing on the Royal Society, which received £28.7 million from the science budget this year, and the Royal Academy of Engineering, which received £4.8 million.

The report, Government Funding of the Scientific Learned Societies , said both must "be able to remain above accusations of insularity and elitism if they are to maintain their dignity and good name in the scientific community". It warned that they would lay themselves open to criticism if they did not begin to monitor the ethnicity of their fellows.

The Royal Society told the committee it had difficulty dealing with fellowship candidates from new disciplines as assessment panels often lacked expertise to evaluate them.

But Dame Julia Higgins, foreign secretary of the Royal Society, told The THES : "We elect the best people irrespective of discipline."

She admitted research fellowships were concentrated in the so-called golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London, but said this was representative of excellent British science.

The report also said the government was not making the most of the resources offered by learned societies, overlooking them when it sought scientific advice.

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