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Panel To Rank U.K. Priorities

LONDON—Industrial, government and scientific leaders here are about to launch a new effort to decide how best to spend the U.K.'s research dollars. The tripartite forum—as yet unnamed—is expected to be announced shortly by the government, which hopes to attract a well-known industrialist as its chairman. 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 res

By | January 26, 1987

LONDON—Industrial, government and scientific leaders here are about to launch a new effort to decide how best to spend the U.K.'s research dollars. The tripartite forum—as yet unnamed—is expected to be announced shortly by the government, which hopes to attract a well-known industrialist as its chairman.

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

John Fairclough, the Prime Minister's chief scientific adviser, is a member of the Advisory Council. In his first major interview since assuming the position last May, Fairclough said he believes the share of the national science budget devoted to "big science" must be debated widely before the country chooses its scientific priorities. The scientific community has claimed that an increasing proportion of its best ideas are unable to win funding, but by and large it has responded to requests for selecting priorities by demanding more money across the board.

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."

Fishlock is with the Financial Times of London.

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