Britain Seeks Strategic Research Funds

LONDON—Strategic research in Britain should be funded by a new route that is independent of the support given to academic science through the University Grants Committee and research councils and the customer-contractor relationship used by government departments for applied research. This view is contained in a new report on civilian R&D from the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, a body of ten peers with considerable experience in science and engineering. The repo

January 26, 1987

LONDON—Strategic research in Britain should be funded by a new route that is independent of the support given to academic science through the University Grants Committee and research councils and the customer-contractor relationship used by government departments for applied research.

This view is contained in a new report on civilian R&D from the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, a body of ten peers with considerable experience in science and engineering. The report, published January 8, defines strategic research as that "undertaken with eventual practical applications in mind even though these cannot be clearly specified."

Strategic research with commercial objectives may differ markedly from strategic research with scientific, social or environmental objectives, they argue. So they advocate a new approach "to promote that strategic research which is of most significance to the United Kingdom's economic future." They believe some of the cash should come from the present budgets of the research councils and government departments, but that the central government should invest new funds that would lead to investment by private industry.

The 39 recommendations in the report include a strong plea for mandatory disclosure by British companies of their research investment. Such disclosure would bring home to management its status in relation to similar companies, and it would encourage investors to take such efforts more seriously when weighing a firm's future prospects. The report says that, despite government support in principle for voluntary disclosure by companies, four years of effort by the Department of Trade and Industry "have come to naught, the CBI [Confederation of British Industries] in particular being unwilling to give firm support."

Action seems more likely now following BTR's recent widely publicized takeover bid for Pilkington. As illustrated by its revolutionary float glass process, Pilkington has always invested heavily in long-term research and development. This policy may have made it vulnerable to takeover by a company with an arguably less enthusiastic commitment to research.

The report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology,
entitled "Civil Research and Development," Volume 1, is available at
HM Stationery Office, High Holborn, London SW 1. Price: 6 pounds.

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