Leading Scientists Fights Over UK Research Reforms
On 13 October at London, the UK government plans to jolt up on how the nation's research is funded which caused dissent among leading British scientists.
During the press briefing on 13 October at London's Science Media Centre, several of the country's most prominent researchers argue over the draft laws which brought the several funding bodies together. It involves seven research councils into a one core founder called United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI).
"This is undisputed and irrelevant and probably, in the long run, damaging change" said an astronomer at the University of Cambridge and a former president of the Royal Society in London, Martin Rees. He further stated that the alteration involved in setting up UKRI will do more harm than good.
Next to Rees, sit the equally renowned Paul Nurse. He argued in favor of the change. Nurse, leads London's Francis Crick Institute and the former president of the Royal Society as well. He led the review of the existing system. It formed the basis for the government officials' proposals, introduced to the Parliament on 19 May as the Higher Education and Research Bill.
Nurse, further argues that the bill could strengthen the voice of science in the government. He said through it, their voice can address the "pitifully low" levels of the funding given to science compared with other developed countries.
In addition to his argument, he emphasized that the present system has not been strong enough in its interactions with the government. He stressed out "Properly set up, UKRI can deliver that."
Rees seconded that he completely agree that they need much stronger voice for science. However, with a new government and problems caused by the UK's vote to leave the European Union, the last thing that they need is a chief overhaul.
The reform bill is at a major talking point and the stimulation of the press briefing are the concern that it may open the door to more government impedance in science funding, as well as higher education.
This bill gives ministers the right to create and dissolve areas of research funding. It would also take away some of the legal instruments that have given the research councils establish autonomy over what they are going to fund. It would restore as well the university governance to create new government bodies to manage universities and permit ministers to suggest courses for the universities of what to be taught.
Nature's editorial published on 4 October, it argued that the moves will upend globally accepted norms which safeguard independence and self-determination in science and higher education. Yet, Nurse commented that Nature's editorial was "alarmist" and "lazy thinking".
John Krebs, am prominent UK scientist, a zoologist at the University of Oxford, UK, and president of the British Science Association cautioned against embracing the bill in an article. "It is by no means obvious that it will improve an already excellent system of universities and research. It could do substantial harm," he wrote. He further explained that changes to the universities would be "in effect a nationalization of our university system.
Stephen Curry, a structural biologist at Imperial College London, disclosed to the journalists at the press conference that the bill is "bad law" and must be amended.
The director of the University of Cambridge's Sainsbury Laboratory and a plant biologist, Ottoline Leyser, said that there is a widespread agreement in academia that the bill is a "curate's egg" which is a mixture of good and bad parts. Moreover, she expressed that however, the good bits are worth keeping.
Researchers expect the bill to pass swiftly through the House of Commons. But many scientists hope that it will be scrutinized more carefully and amended in the House of Lords.