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Heriot-Watt University

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science, pursuant to his statement on 29 February, Official Report, column 722, what representations he has received from Professor Des Smith FRS, head of the department of optical and laser physics at Heriot-Watt university, about the impact on that university of the new selective criteria for funding research.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Robert Jackson)

I discussed this matter with Professor Smith when I visited Heriot-Watt university last October, and he subsequently sent me the university's comments on the ABRC document, "A Strategy for the Science Base". Professor Smith and I exchanged further letters on the ABRC's proposals last month.

What is the future for the improving departments of a small university?

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the question of how the principle of selectivity and concentration on scientific research should be carried through into the universities. Professor Smith supports that principle. There is an argument about the means and whether it should be done by university, by department or by subject area. That, of course, is a matter upon which the Government have yet to make a decision.

What support is being given specifically to Professor Smith's work in optical computing? That work opens up new technology that simply does not fit in with the Government's scheme of things.

I shall have to come back to the hon. Gentleman about the specific question of opto-electronic technology. I have been to see Professor Smith's work, but I do not recall the exact figure of allocation. The allocation of funds to universities by research councils is a matter for the universities and the research councils.