The Case Diary includes the latest information on our activites. The Diary archive, available via the links on the left, includes diary entries as well as all the information from our What's New section.
|24/02/04 Mathematics education
SBS today welcomed the report of the Inquiry into Mathematics Education, and urged the government to accept its recommendations, even though they will require up-front investment.
“More than a third of science teachers recently told SBS that they have to teach remedial maths in science lessons because their schools are not providing the maths their pupils need, so we know this is a serious problem,” said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS. “Without a good, well-qualified, maths teacher, how can children expect to get the most out of a subject that many of them are already approaching with some trepidation?”
20/02/04 Blue Skies Research
SBS today criticised the decline of blue-skies research. In a talk at the University of Sussex, SBS Director Peter Cotgreave argued that funding mechanisms have almost eliminated the possiblity of university researchers doing research that challenges the established view of the world. "Universities no longer really have any unencumbered funds, and the Research Councils are insisting that some of their investment is used to do the kind of policy-led research that is properly the job of individual Government Departments.
"And on top of that, several recent announcements have made it clear that ministers intend to continue the relentless push for universities to spend an increasing proportion of their time on money on the short-term applications of research rather than the long-term job of understanding basic principles. Given what we know about how important truly blue-skies research is to the long-term health of the economy, this policy has potentially disastrous consequences."
19/02/04 Science in Government Departments
SBS today released evidence that many Government Departments are ignoring the importance of science. "Five years ago, the Council for Science and Technology told the Government that it needed more scientists to come and work in the civil service on short-term secondments, but when asked what they had done about it, most departments didn't know how many scientists had actually come to work for them," said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS.
"Even the Department of Trade & Industry, which is responsible for science policy, didn't know how many scientists had come to work for it, and the Education Department has not had a single scientific secondee for five years. No wonder the House of of Commons recently criticised parts of the civil service for a 'weak scientific culture'."
17/02/04 Science in Schools
SBS today highlighted the importance of science in schools. In an interview on BBC Radio Cymru, SBS Committee member Hefin Jones discussed the results of an SBS survey of school teachers with pupils, teachers and educational officers from Wales.
SBS's survey found that three quarters of schools were cancelling practical classes, mostly because of badly behaved pupils and a lack of equipment. "Practical classes are a crucial part of a good education, and we were surprised and concerned to discover there were so many problems with them," said Dr Jones.
13/02/04 University infrastructure
SBS today highlighted the improvements in university infrastructure that have been delivered by recent funding initiatives, and the results that researchers are achieving. At a visit to the University of East Anglia, Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS said, "It's fantastic to go around the country seeing what universities are doing with the money that had come through the Joint Infrastructure Fund and the Science Research Investment Fund, and to learn what research groups are achieving. There is a long way to go before British Science is saved, but these projects are showing what value taxpayers get for investment in science".
12/02/04 Science & politics
SBS today called on scientists and politicians to do more to engage with one another. In an article in Microbiology Today SBS argues that many politicians still take the view that science should be dealt with by a small group of specialists. While individual parliamentarians may get interested in a specific subject (such as mobile phones if they have a mast in their constituency or BSE if they represent an abattoir), in the main they hide behind 'scientific advice' rather than making up their own minds.
"It is more important than ever," said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS, "that the scientific community continues to engage with the public at large - including sceptics and critics - but also they we make extra efforts to make the politicial world listen to us, to engage with us more, and to take science seriously."
11/02/04 Scientific publications
SBS today called on the Government to fund research-level libraries more appropriately to deal with rapid changes in scientific publications. In its response to a House of Commons inquiry into scientific publishing SBS pointed out that British Library's budget has not even risen with inflation in recent years and several of the other Legal Deposit Libraries are in universities, which are strapped for cash.
"Science is about a market in ideas," said Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS, "and the market in scientific publications is an incidental part of that. Markets only work if consumers have good information, and science only works if researchers have good information about what others are thinking and doing. Changes in publishing - including various forms of electronic publishing - are having an enormous effect on that market in ideas."
10/02/04 Research assessment
SBS today welcomed the Funding Councils' simplification of proposals to assess university research, but warned that it was unacceptable not to tell universities in advance how their ratings will translate into financial rewards.
09/02/04 Parliamentary scrutiny of science policy
SBS today warmly welcomed the new Science Question Time, at which the Sciece & Technology Committee of the House of Commons quizzed the Science Minister with short sharp exchanges about various aspects of science policy.
"Sitting the public area watching the event, there was a real feeling that science policies were starting to be given the same kind of serious treatment as other areas that get their own question time on the floor of the House," said Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS, "and we were pleased that several issues of major concern to SBS were discussed, especially the closure of university science departments and the lack of co-ordination between the scientific parts of different Government ministries."
05/02/04 British Library
In its efforts to support the infrastucture underpinning the science base, SBS today met with senior staff of the British Library, who are drawing up a strategic plan for the provision of scientific information. "As the nation's repository of knowledge, the library needs keep abreast of developments in the ways in which scientific knoweldge is reported," said Dr Peter Cotgreave, "and with the House of Commons conducting an inquiry into scientific publications, and the Government conducting a review of scientific activities in the Department of Culture, it was very timely for the library to come and discuss its developing strategy".
03/02/04 University finance
SBS today highlighted the closure of university science departments, and stressed the problems this will cause in the future for the nation's economy. In a letter in the Daily Telegraph, SBS points out that while universities receive approximately the true cost of teaching library-based subjects, they are substantially underfunded for the sciences. The text of the letter is as follows:
The closure of universities’ science departments (reported on 2 February) is extremely worrying because of the likely long-term effects on the UK’s economy. Government policies are accelerating the problem. The money that universities receive, or are allowed to charge, approximately covers the real cost of teaching library-based subjects. But in subjects that require expensively-equipped laboratories, the money falls far short of the true cost. Rather than addressing this issue, the Government has recently announced that funding for teaching the arts and humanities will increase much faster than for the sciences. In addition, while the Higher Education Funding Council has (and uses) the power to intervene to the most astonishing degree in the minutiae of university administration, it does not appear to have the power to plan strategically for the country’s future needs. So, while individual vice-chancellors are forced to close their physics and chemistry departments because they simply cannot make the sums add up, nobody in Government appears to be doing anything to reverse this trend, which could turn out to be the ruination of the nation’s economy.
01/02/04 University finance
SBS today called on the Government to reverse the single biggest problem for university finances - the central setting of both supply and demand.
"Government dictates the number of students universities must teach, and determines the specific volume of publicly-funded research, and it also controls the supply of money, either through grants or through regulating the market in fees," said Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS.
"But it sets each without reference to the other. So the demands on the universities grow and grow, but their funding does not keep pace."
In an article in Laboratory News, SBS argues that the Government has three options, namely
i) determine the required size of the system and set the budget accordingly
ii) decide how much money is available and set the number of places and volume of research accordingly
iii) free up the universities either to determine the size of their own ambitions within the available budget or to raise more money (for example by un-capping fees) to fund in full the level of activity defined by Government.