Dyson: Cameron to OK postgrad funds (UK)

By Elizabeth Gibney

Entrepreneur says pay for science researchers could rise to £40K. Elizabeth Gibney writes.

Postgraduate researchers in science and engineering could see their pay rise to £40,000 a year under proposals put forward by the inventor Sir James Dyson. The entrepreneur and adviser to the Conservatives told Times Higher Education that David Cameron had already agreed to his plans. Sir James said the government should put “serious money” into postgraduate research in order to fill a skills gap in UK companies. “I propose that they’re paid £30,000 to £40,000 a year, which will cost the government between £30 million and £40 million. We would get British people staying on to do research, and British people then going to British companies and benefiting (them),” he said.

Sir James added that the UK was still producing fewer engineers than it needed. He estimated that there was currently a shortfall of 50,000 and that this figure would rise to 200,000 in two years. It remains unclear whether the increased salaries Sir James proposes would apply to all science and engineering doctorates or only those paid for by the UK research councils, where the current minimum stipend is set at £13,590. Sir James said he had taken his idea directly to Mr Cameron, who had agreed to the proposal. Funding for the scheme would have to come from central government, Sir James said, adding that he had yet to “get it through” David Willetts, the universities and science minister.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it had received no formal proposal on the issue, and No. 10 was unable to confirm Sir James’ claim. However, a spokesman for BIS said the government was working closely with industry and would continue to look at ways “to support engineering at all levels, including engagement in schools, apprenticeships and postgraduate training”. Proposals from Sir James’ 2010 report Ingenious Britain: Making the UK the Leading High Tech Exporter in Europe – including an increase in the research and development tax credit rate for small and medium-sized businesses and the creation of a Nobel Prize-style award for engineering – have already been implemented.

Speaking to THE ahead of the opening of the Dyson Building at the Royal College of Art on 24 September, Sir James also voiced his concern that visa restrictions were harming UK businesses. Doctoral graduates from overseas trained in the UK were not given long enough to find jobs and to use their skills to benefit UK businesses, he said. Sir James also stressed the need to recognise the role of design and technology in creating successful exports. “Successive governments have paid it lip service, [saying] it’s art and design, it’s nice to have, but forgetting the strategic point that it can rejuvenate our economy,” he said. Sir James said he believed that the onus was on industry, rather than on the government or universities, to initiate collaborations with the academy, although he had reservations about higher education trying to make money from patents. “Industry doesn’t want to license everything, it wants to own things and exploit them globally, and I don’t think universities are very good at that.”

Source: Times Higher Education http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=421386&c=1