The idea for such a group came from the government's Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development (ACARD). The Council, a group of senior industrial and government research managers, is chaired by Sir Francis Tombs, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce.
The Council has wrestled unsuccessfully with the question of setting priorities for national R&D efforts since the late 1970s. Each time a program cut was considered, noted a former chairman, someone on the Council would rise passionately to its defense and the group would change its mind.
The new forum will spearhead a drive to persuade private industry to spend more on R&D. Greater spending on both in-house and contract research is needed, government officials argue, for Britain to remain competitive with Japan and the United States.
More than More
Fairclough believes that Britain needs a substantial and secure core budget for academic science—and, despite the view of many in academia, he said "this it has." He adds, however, that scientists are not adequately addressing the problems facing the country, problems that often cut across individual disciplines.
Science itself would be strengthened if Britain tackled these pressing problems, he believes. "As science is applied more quickly, it will also grow at an increasing pace. Britain is not short of research," he said, "but we are short of development."
Fairclough expects the forum to play a major role in selecting and shaping national scientific priorities, in part by giving clear preference to outstanding university departments and national research centers. Asked about the science community's new effort to support excellence, he said, "I don't think they're moving fast enough."