Monday, 12 January 2009

CaSE Forum Focuses on the Impact of the UK Science Base

Today saw the participation of the BES Policy Team in an Opinion Forum organised by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), focusing on the impact of the UK science and engineering base. The Forum was the first step towards the publication of a policy document by CaSE, summarising discussion and to be used as a basis for the organisation's lobbying activities.

Participants heard presentations from Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn-Smith FRS, former Director General of CERN, Dr Graeme Reid, DIUS, and Professor Philip Esler, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Interesting points were made regarding the distinction between 'basic' (or 'curiosity driven') and 'applied' research; including whether such definitions were in fact unhelpful. Is 'basic' research simply applied research which hasn't been applied yet?

Basic research was seen as a vital component of the UK research base and participants felt strongly that the increased emphasis on Knowledge Transfer by the Research Councils should not be at the expense of 'blue skies' thinking. Basic research has a vital role not only in the possibility it offers of discoveries of enormous economic and practical importance, but also in the contribution it offers to culture and to education: attracting people to science through the often fantastic nature of blue skies endeavours.

Discussion in the afternoon's break-out sessions highlighted the importance of communication between researchers, industry and Government to capitalise to the development of benefits from research, and to effecting a 'culture change' within universities: Knowledge Transfer is important and is something researchers should engage in. Changes are also required in the consumers of research however. Government in particular was singled out as needing to become a more intelligent customer of research. Finally, participants felt that there was the need for the formation of a body to act as an 'independent broker' of research, matching researchers to industry and Government need and vice versa. In some respects, this echoes the work of Learned Societies such as the BES, but at a much wider, cross-disciplinary scale.

For further information about the work of CaSE please visit the CaSE website.

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