Willetts’ eight are not great but ‘nonsense’

Research areas championed by government dismissed as poor investments by technology expert

April 10, 2014

The “eight great technologies” championed by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, have been branded “nonsense” by an expert in small technology companies.

Marcus Gibson, founder of the Gibson Index, said that the priority areas – which range from big data to advanced materials – singled out in the government’s industrial strategy for £600 million of investment are known by “most people to be very poor at producing money”.

The investment would be better used to promote innovation-led growth if it were spent on concepts that are closer to market, he told Times Higher Education.

Speaking to THE after initially making the remarks at a Westminster Higher Education Forum about research and innovation last month, he said that the strategy “is a programme for the employment of the maximum number of scientists” and “not really at all” to do with industry.

Mr Gibson also criticised the support given to graphene. The government has invested at least £70 million to date, including £50 million to set up a global graphene technology hub at the University of Manchester and £20 million for academic research to help commercialise the material.

This is a “total waste of money”, he told THE. “We are never going to make any money out of graphene.” At the event, he cited another single-layer material known as stanene being developed in the US that could compete with graphene. “It would be much better if we did focus the money that is available in much more commercially focused concepts,” he added.

Joseph Tidd, professor of science and technology policy research at the University of Sussex, said that it would be risky if the government were betting on graphene alone, but the eight great technologies, or research areas, were very broad.

Professor Tidd said: “It would be hard to find technologies that are not covered by these eight categories…[which take in] virtually every field of research that the UK is currently strong in.”

Investments that could have an impact across a wide range of areas, such as advanced materials, are historically the best ones to make, he added.


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