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Research Funding

Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 16 January 2008

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills on funding for research for universities in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (177783)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to discuss a variety of issues affecting Wales, and Welsh universities have a vital role to play in meeting the challenges of the future, not only in increasing the knowledge economy of Wales, but in encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation.

North East Wales institute in my constituency, which we all hope will shortly be a university, has a proud record of research, particularly in attracting private investment into research. Since 2001, it has raised £2.7 million for its polymer investment programme, 80 per cent. of which has come from the private sector—

I got the gist of it, Mr. Speaker; I am happy to reply. The North East Wales institute has been right at the forefront of research. It has received £120,000 from the research investment fund since 2004-05. In particular, its innovation centre has made remarkable progress through links with Rolls-Royce, Airbus UK, Siemens, Jaguar and DaimlerChrysler. My hon. Friend will continue to receive support from myself and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; there is no more powerful advocate for the North East Wales institute than my hon. Friend.

Despite the Minister’s professed support for research funding, is he aware of the potential cuts to the physics funding of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which will amount to 25 per cent. over three years, and the detrimental effect that that will have on such institutes in Aberystwyth? Will he continue his dialogue with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and his colleagues at the STFC in order to find us some alternative funding?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will always continue such discussions, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that in the 2005-06 academic year, for the very first time, Welsh universities accounted for 11 per cent. of UK-wide income from collaborative research, outperforming six of the nine English regional development agency regions. Wales is doing very well in research, but it must do more, and we will continue to support Wales as it drives forward in the knowledge economy.

The Secretary of State has long been a champion of higher education in Wales, particularly with regard to its support of the knowledge economy. Does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary agree that the forthcoming inquiry by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs into cross-border issues affords the Wales Office and the DIUS a unique opportunity to give evidence on how we can best address the question of the research funding deficit in Wales? In so doing, we can help to strengthen the link between technology transfer and research funding in order to advance the cause of the knowledge economy in Wales.

Indeed; my hon. Friend’s commitment to higher education and his background in HE in Wales are well known, and the Wales Office would welcome any opportunity to appear before the Welsh Affairs Committee to give evidence to that very important inquiry into the future of skills and knowledge in Wales. I know that he will welcome the recent substantial increase in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform science and innovation budget—an increase from £5.4 billion in 2007 to £6.3 billion in 2010-11. That is positive news for Welsh HE, delivered under a Labour Government.