Principal and advisor give evidence to Westminster committee

The Principal of the University of Strathclyde and a Special Advisor to the Principal have appeared before House of Commons committee, as part of its scrutiny of a bill currently before Parliament.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald and Professor Dame Anne Glover gave evidence to the Advanced Research and Invention Bill Committee, which is considering the Bill brought to Parliament by the UK Government.

It sets out provision for the establishment of a UK Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which is an independent body for the funding of “high-risk, high-reward scientific research.”

Sir Jim, appearing in his capacity of President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, told the committee that ARIA had major global significance for the UK, with the potential to be “a great magnet for talent into the UK” and “an attractor for business and investment.”

He said: “Telling the world about our ambitions around being a science superpower and trying to become one of the world’s most innovative nations is not something that we should keep to ourselves. We should be promoting that, showing confidence in the UK that we are building on our outstanding research base, but we now have another mechanism through which we can drive technologies, find solutions and indeed build economies.

“I would like to see good outcomes that impact on the economy positively, build industry, support the creation of supply chains, support indigenous supply chains and create new ones around new technologies, whether in net zero, health tech or AI, to build an industry through which we can drive the economy to keep that virtuous circle of driving economic strength so that we continue to invest in science, research and innovation.”

Dame Anne said it was important that ARIA should have independence from government, without which it could become a “political football.” She was also asked whether ARIA should be purely about science or should also be concerned with commercialisation of the science.

She said: “Someone once said that there are two types of research: applied research and research not yet applied. That is quite true. There might be some areas of research where you think that there is a very easy market for this, but if we look back and learn from experience, we find that an awful lot of basic research has been developed. The whole area of medical diagnostics, for example, started out as pure research. There was no aim of commercialisation; it was just a fundamental biological problem that was being investigated.

“In renewable energy or an area around that, you might understand from the outset that there will be a lot of potential commercial partners and opportunities. In some other areas, perhaps not. This might be an opportunity to think about what the relationships should be like between ARIA and existing research funding, because it is all part of an ecosystem.”

Sir Jim and Dame Anne both gave their evidence via online links.