Row over funds for Welsh science

December 6, 2002

A paper calling for a properly funded science policy for Wales has caused a row between Welsh Assembly members and their ministers.

The paper was submitted to the assembly's economic development committee last week by Dylan Jones-Evans, Bangor University enterprise and regional development professor. It warns that Wales is the poorest region in the UK for research and development and is in danger of losing what little investment it has.

The paper urges the assembly to follow the lead of Scotland and Northern Ireland and to develop a strategy that will target key areas of research investment within the academic and private sectors.

Welsh economic development minister Andrew Davies told the committee that the paper's points were already covered by his Wales for Innovation action plan, which was put out for consultation last month.

But his argument was rejected by assembly members, who insisted that the paper remained on the agenda for the committee's next meeting on Thursday.

Members are expected to push for the assembly to draw up a policy that would include grants to persuade PhD researchers to stay in Wales.

Ron Davies, former Welsh secretary and a committee member, said: "This was the most significant economic piece of work we have ever been presented with."

The paper demonstrates that there is a declining research and development base in Wales.

In the private sector, research and development dropped by 33 per cent from 1999 to 2001, compared with an 11 per cent increase for the rest of the UK.

Last year, private research and development spending in Northern Ireland overtook Wales for the first time. Within the university sector, £71 million was spent by institutions in 2000-01 - 3.7 per cent of the total UK research and development expenditure.

The average expenditure in Welsh universities per academic was £10,739, compared with an average of £13,758 in the UK and £15,504 in Scotland. It would cost an extra £20 million a year to meet the UK average, the paper says.

Professor Jones-Evans said that the serious underinvestment threatened the ability of the Welsh economy to meet targets set in the assembly's National Economic Development Strategy.

He said: "Most worrying is the fact that there is underinvestment within the Welsh academic structure in areas that form the foundation for important high-technology industries."

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