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Research and Science Budget: Physics Review

Volume 698: debated on Monday 21 January 2008

Today my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (John Denham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am publishing the terms of reference for the review of physics I asked Research Councils UK (RCUK) to commission as part of the science budget allocations announced on 11 December. I have placed copies in the House Library.

The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14 sets out the Government's commitment to nurturing key disciplines. The research councils, funding councils, and national academies have made significant progress. It is important that all key disciplines remain strong and vibrant. Research priorities will change over time, and in line with the Haldane principle it is for research councils to set these, but it is important that the Government are confident that the combined decisions of the research councils properly underpin the health of key disciplines. This is important both for the future of research and, more widely, to ensure a flow of talented individuals into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects at university.

As a next step, I asked Ian Diamond, as chair of RCUK, to organise a series of reviews on the health of key research disciplines in the UK. I announced that the first of these reviews would be on physics, and would be led by Professor Bill Wakeham, vice-chancellor, the University of Southampton.

I am pleased to announce that RCUK has now agreed terms of reference for the review. These are:

RCUK will, as part of its continuing oversight of health of disciplines, commission a cross-council review of actions that might be taken to ensure the continued health of physics research and postgraduate training in the UK, as the first in a series of such reviews.

The review will:

consider the priorities for investment across physics as a whole, taking account of the need both to maintain the health of discipline and to strengthen its wider, including economic, impact in the future;

identify the contribution physics makes to other areas of research and explore how these contributions can be enhanced, with a view to strengthening the health of the UK research base as a whole;

identify options for strengthening research leadership and enhancing the opportunities in physics for young researchers;

with resources coming from more than one funding organisation, examine ways to improve the coherence of the UK physics programme;

examine the provision of physics-based facilities, their application across the science base, and appropriate means of sustaining their operation; and

comment on any other issues that have implications for the health of physics in the UK.

The review will make recommendations that will inform the medium-term funding of physics across the science base. It will report to RCUK during 2008. RCUK will then submit specific recommendations to the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The names of the other members of the review will be announced shortly.