HC Deb 19 December 1989 vol 164 cc183-4
5. Mr. Boyes

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates he has for higher education research and development expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product in the United Kingdom and in France, Germany, Japan and the United States of America, respectively.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John MacGregor)

Definitions of the higher education sector as reported to the OECD vary substantially, so any figures must be treated with caution. Published OECD figures for 1986 are 0.33 per cent. for the United Kingdom, 0.34 per cent. for France, 0.37 per cent. for Germany, 0.56 per cent. for Japan and 0.40 per cent. for the United States. But these are inputs, and this Government are concerned with outputs. As measured by our share of scientific papers published, the United Kingdom's research output remains second only to that of the United States.

Mr. Boyes

Is it true that we spend only half as much as Japan on our education research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product? How can the Secretary of State expect the United Kingdom to compete in a highly technological world when we spend less on research than do other major OECD countries? Is that not particularly important to constituencies in the north-east, where we try to create and attract new technological industries to replace our previous traditional base of steel, coal and merchant shipbuilding, which have all been destroyed by this Government?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman's latter point has nothing to do with the question. He asked me about specific countries, but I should tell him that we spend more on research and development than many other countries. Even more important, the comparable figures for OECD countries are for 1986 and are out of date. Since 1986 we have increased our science budget in real terms by 17 per cent., which is bound to be reflected in the comparisons. In the last two public expenditure surveys, we have increased the cash amount by £490 million—a significant increase.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Has my right hon. Friend comparable figures for the provision of funds for higher education research and development by private industry and commerce? Is there not a case for trying to attract more funds from those sources so that we can have better research and development in the future?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not have the figures to hand, but they would show that, over the years, we have contributed less through those sources than some other countries. I am glad that, in the 1980s, universities and colleges have successfully attracted more funding from industry, as my hon. Friend recommended. I entirely agree with his objective, and our position is improving.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Secretary of State agree that in addition to our relatively poor performance during the five years from 1986–87 to 1991–92, as evidenced by the answers that he has just given, there will be a fall in expenditure on research and development in real terms by 10 per cent.? According to Government figures, expenditure will fall from £4.8 million to £4.3 million. Is not the reality that, according to the Government's figures, they have not only cut their commitment to research and development, but grossly underfunded our science base?

Mr. MacGregor

I have just told the House that our expenditure on the science budget since 1986–87 is substantially up in real terms. One can only guess as to the exact amount spent on research and development as a whole in universities. The Universities Funding Council said that this year we would spend about £780 million more on research and development. There has been a considerable increase in the amount spent.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will my right hon. Friend cast his eyes beyond solely expenditure on research, and say how we fare on the success and results of research, particularly in comparison with western Europe and the United States?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is right. In citations and published output we continue to perform extremely well. As I said, we are second only to the United States in terms of scientific papers in main journals. It is interesting that in the 1980s we have maintained our porportion of world output, whereas Germany and France, despite an increased scientific budget, have reduced their output.