By Jon E Agar, on 26 January 2009
Lord Drayson, the science and innovation minister, appeared before the House of Commons’ Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills committee today. He was lightly grilled about the task of putting science at the heart of government policy, before facing a ‘question time’. (Drayson is a peer and therefore cannot be quizzed in the lower house. This cozy question time session was designed to substitute the scrutiny an MP would receive.)
So what was learned about the new minister?
It seems that due to the global economic downturn, a science policy of picking winners is back. Asked whether innovation in large and small businesses should be a casualty of current economic conditions, Drayson argued that there was now pressure to focus on areas where the UK has strategic advantage. He pointed to opportunities in the life sciences made possible by the NHS, as well as the earth sciences, as two potentially favoured areas. ‘There will need to be more concentration’, he concluded. Asked bluntly if he had the courage to take hard decisions to drop unfavoured areas, he replied ‘yes’.
Lord Drayson considers the literature on science and innovation to be ‘patchy’ at best. His examples of good literature seemed to be rather old clustering studies.
Lord Drayson also offered some career advice. To post-docs struggling with remaining in academia, he suggested, first, school teaching, and second, starting a spin-off. To academics, he suggested that spells in industry should be encouraged by future policies.
Calm, measured, and speaking in complete paragraphs, Lord Drayson did not ruffle feathers. The IUSS committee itself was understrength – only five MPs turned up (Phil Willis, Evan Harris, Gordon Marsden, Ian Stewart and Ian Gibson). No Conservative member appeared.