Lord Willetts, Visiting Professor in the Policy Institute at King’s College London, Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation and former Minister of State for Universities and Science, gave his inaugural lecture on Thursday 28 April, setting out 100 years of science policy. He was joined by the President of the Royal Society Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan.
The event marked the 11th of the Strand Group, the signature seminar series of the Policy Institute at King’s. During his lecture, Lord Willetts contrasted the UK with Germany, highlighting that the UK channels much of its research funding through universities, whereas support for public sector research establishments is higher in Germany – and that they do more to help German industries to innovate and apply new technologies. The former science minister described how in the UK “We’ve got all our eggs in the university basket. [Germany] have a lot of their research in a non-university location.”
The UK, according to Willetts, gets an extraordinary range of high-quality academic research for a modest amount but that German institutes were much more able to “…set themselves technical challenges and use public and private money to do it.” Willetts argued that “…Britain, for the last 30 years, has not provided an environment in which public sector research establishments can thrive and prosper” and that this may be damaging our ability to deliver innovation.
Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, responding to Lord Willetts, said that UK research and higher education is experiencing considerable change and that there is opportunity to strengthen the system. Sir Venki highlighted the strengths of research establishments and universities. He described research establishments as having a more focused attack on research challenges and a longer term approach, whilst universities benefitted from a proximity of disciplines and diversity of ideas and played an important role in training future generations.