The recruitment crisis in academic computer science and electronic engineering is putting the UK's chance to benefit commercially from the electronic age in jeopardy, a parliamentary inquiry has concluded, writes Steve Farrar.
A report from the House of Lords science and technology select committee calls on the government and universities to take action to address the problem, in part by tackling the salary differential between academe and the computer industry.
Lord Wade of Chorlton, chairman of the inquiry, said that despite the demise of UK-owned chip manufacturing, the UK still had an international standing in largely unrecognised industrial areas such as chip design.
"Action is needed now if Britain is to maintain and develop its stake in the global computing industry," he said.
Calls for the Department of Trade and Industry to support chip design and architecture research were met immediately by an extra £10 million of government funding in the science budget.
The report into the UK's opportunities in the global computing market, published yesterday, proposes a national programme and a national research centre to support the field.
SCIENCE BUDGET 2003-06: THE KEY ELEMENTS
* University research sustainability
A dedicated capital funding stream worth £500 million a year from 2004-05 has been created to tackle the effects of under-investment in research infrastructure. The second science research investment fund (SRIF2) will be backed by £300 million from the science budget and £200 million for England from the Department for Education and Skills. More may come from the devolved administrations.
Universities will have to raise 10 per cent of the cost of each project covered by the fund, a smaller proportion than previous schemes demanded.
The research councils will be given an extra £120 million a year from 2005-06 to make a larger contribution than at present to the full economic cost of research in universities.
* Knowledge transfer
The government will consolidate the Higher Education Innovation Fund as a permanent third stream of university funding, with investment rising to £90 million a year by 2005-06. This will support technology transfer, entrepreneurship training and seed funding for commercial ventures.
A single bidding round to cover 2004-06 will allocate £170 million to universities.
* People in the science and engineering base
The key recommendations of Sir Gareth Roberts's review of the supply of scientists and engineers will be implemented.
PhD stipends will rise to £9,000 in 2003-04, £10,500 in 2004-05 and £12,000 in 2005-06. Funds will be provided to allow stipends of more than £13,000 in 2005-06 in subjects with particular recruitment difficulties.
The average research council postdoctoral salary will increase by about £4,000 by 2005-06. Training opportunities will be improved with £13 million of funding.
* Extra funding for key areas of research
* Stem cells, £40 million - a concerted programme of multidisciplinary research to tease out the therapeutic potential of an exciting new field
* Genomics and proteomics, £136 million - building on an existing multi-council programme to develop new drugs and diagnostic techniques
* Brain science, £15 million - a programme designed to take advantage of recent advances in technology in neurobiology
* Rural economy, £20 million - looking at the impact of the changing role of the countryside, from tourism to the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
* Sustainable energy sources, £28 million - developing pollution-free energy solutions with a new UK energy research centre linked to an energy research network
* E-science, £115 million - expanding research into the next generation of computing technology needed to manage huge quantities of data
* Basic technology, £60 million - continuing programme to develop new technologies for a range of scientific and industrial applications
* Infectious diseases of animals, £10 million - researching the fundamental biology of the interactions of infectious organisms with their hosts
* New computational architectures, £10 million - developing the UK's strength in work on emergent, adaptive and hybrid computer systems
* Gravity and planetary exploration, £9 million - to support work on the next generation of large-scale gravitational wave detectors and the Aurora programme to study the planets
* National Methods Coordinating Centre, £3 million - establishing a centre to develop the techniques and skills of the UK's social scientists
* Science in society programme, £3 million - additional funding to implement the recommendations of the science in society study.