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Computer Requirements Of Universities And Research Councils (Report)

Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 21 December 1965

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has received the report of the Flowers Committee on the computer requirements of universities and research councils; and if he will make a statement.

1. Following the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology in the House on 1st March about the computer industry, I invited the Council for Scientific Policy and the University Grants Committee to set up a Working Group to undertake a full-scale review of the computer requirements of Universities and Research Councils, which would lead to a new five-year programme of procurement. The Working Group met under the chairmanship of Professor Flowers of Manchester University. It reported in July, and the report was submitted to me by the Council and the University Grants Committee.2. The proposals of the Working Group are designed to meet the growing need for digital computing facilities for research. The group recommend that there should be regional computing centres at the Universities of London, Manchester and Edinburgh with very large computers to which research workers from other Universities and research institutions would have access. They recommend better computing facilities for individual universities and research establishments which would be compatible with the proposed regional computers. The system would thus form an integrated whole.3. At present prices, the cost of implementing the Working Group's proposals for new machines, equipment, buildings, and extra operating costs would be £20·5 million for universities and £9·3 million for Research Councils in a period of five years. This compares with an average rate of approved orders for computers for universities, over the last three years, of under £0·5 million per annum; last year it was £1·2 million.4. The Government has given general approval to the Flowers Committee's programme for new university computers, equipment, building and operating costs. Because of the economic situation, and the need to fit the expenditure into the National Plan, it is proposed to implement the programme over six years instead of five. In the first three years, expenditure will be at the rate of about £3 million a year. Orders are being placed as soon as possible. Most of the Flowers Committee's recommendations for Research Councils have high priority within the programmes of the councils.5. In accordance with the views expressed by the Flowers Committee, I propose to set up, in consultation with the University Grants Committee and the Council for Scientific Policy, a Computer Board. This will keep the programme under review and be responsible for ensuring the full utilisation of the facilities provided in both the centres and the Universities generally.6. The programme forms part of the plan announced by the Minister of Technology for developing the use of computers as an instrument of modernisation and of economic advance. The success of this plan calls for a more widespread use of computers in Universities so that many more graduates become aware of the capabilities of computers and are trained in their use.7. I should like, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to take this opportunity of thanking Professor Flowers and the other members of the Working Group for the valuable work they have done in preparing this report.