This week I attended an Institute of Electrical Engineers prestige lecture given by Lord Sainsbury, the present Minister for Science and Innovation, entitled “The Role of The Minister for Science and Innovation in the Knowledge Economy”.
The talk was essentially about the duties of the position, and how he sees the future of science in the UK. It was insightful to see the way that policies that affect universities and hi-tech companies are decided upon, and to see the man that makes those decisions. Lord Sutton made an interesting point about the knowledge economy; 50 years ago a high percentage of the cost of a product was composed of material and labour, as much as 80%. But now it is common for a product price to be only 20% made up by material and labour costs. This change is due to the increased amount of intelectual property and research and develpment costs. One question was asked which provoked a response in him that reassured me of something that I have worried about before; when asked whether universities are being focused more upon profitable science than research for the sake of curiosity and furthering knowledge he replied that this should always be a part of science in the UK. He felt that just because some science didn’t give birth to a start-up it was no less important, and that study for the sake of research, and maintaining universities as somewhere where knowledge is furthered not for profit but for curiosity will remain.