Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech opening Warwick University Science Park

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Warwick University
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: Around 1200. Peace campaigners and student protesters demonstrated as MT arrived, jeering and throwing eggs (one of which hit her car). She commented that she was not worried by the demonstration (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 24 February 1984).
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1555
Themes: Judiciary, Conservatism, Higher & further education, Industry, Monetary policy, Science & technology

When Lord Scarman first asked me to open this building I was intrigued as well as delighted because I had never opened an incubator before. So the good scientist that I am, I tried to find out some of the facts and definitions about it and one of my staff found a definition of “incubator” ! “It is a good hatcher but the chickens can't be reared” . So said the Cottage Gardener in 1857. It was of course quite wrong, because already I understand you are talking about “son of incubator” which could not possibly be happening unless the chickens were reared. [Words missing] and I hope that some of them are going to be geese that will lay golden eggs.

Now a Science Park is a great venture for a university. When I think back on the role, the very important role, which universities had to play in our history, they have added to that role. In the past, I think they had two principal roles. The first to transmit the accumulation of knowledge to future generations and teach them how to think. Second, the creation of new ideas and the discovery of new scientific laws, or perhaps the discovery of old scientific laws which we didn't know about until we discovered them. It has always seemed to me that the creation of new ideas and scientific discovery is one of the greatest roles of universities. We all know it is so much easier to analyse than it is to imagine and come up with a new hypothesis and inspiration which unlocks the key to the unknown world. That also has been part of the role of universities, a role they have played magnificently, and we know that throughout the world British universities are renowned for their research, for their original work, and our prestige stands very high in every academic centre the world over.

Those are two roles which we have always played in universities. Now there is added a third function—it is that of turning discovery and the creative ideas here to the advantage of the population as a whole. I think before the post-war generation that was not done in large measure in universities. Somehow we trained people, somehow we did research and then we handed over that function to people outside. Now we have taken on that third function and it is very much a part of the role of universities not only to create those ideas, not only to educate and to train others, but to be a very part of the process which means those ideas are taken up [end p1] outside, whether in the arts or in the sciences, to the great advantage of all our people. This is one example of the new third role which has been taken on by universities. It is very much needed, especially in the scientific sphere, because during the lifetime of my generation the whole of Europe has watched, for example, the new electronic revolution taken up more vigorously as far as industry is concerned both in the United States and in Japan. And yet if you look historically at the role of science and scientific invention in Europe, you will find that historically we were the people who turned scientific research and development to the advantage of the industrial revolution among our people. And yet we fell behind in that role. But we are not going to be behind any longer. Yes, Science Parks were taken up in the United States before us. We have learned a great deal from them. We have learned that they are not easy to bring to success just because you create them. They require great support and co-operation from the whole of industry and they really require dogged determination to make it succeed until once again this country will reassert a role which it used to have, which now it will pursue more vigorously.

I think to succeed in modern life we all have our particular role to play. This government has a role. I would say that it is a limited role. I would say, Sir Timothy, that you felt it wise not to be too modest. I would say that it's very wise for governments to be modest about what they can do. Because the moment they become too arrogant, too little is left to those who really know how to do the job. So I would say government has a limited role but a very important one. I would say that our role as government in trying to achieve progress in a society of which we are all a part is to provide sound finance, to provide good administration, to see that good education is provided, good health is provided, to see that there is a just and impartial law—and may I pay such very great tribute to Lord Scarman in that. We have been very fortunate in the development of law and justice in our country, in those who have been our judges throughout history, and we have today some who are as great as any of their forebears. And also of course to provide leadership in attitudes to change.

That is the role of government. But when government has done all that and through the tax provided various monies for education, provided various monies for health, provided various monies to help and stimulate new business, at that point in time we have to say over to the individual men and women, [end p2] to the other institutions to develop that talent which is an essential part of the life of each and every person in our society. And really when we have got the sound finance, the sound administration, the good education, the good health, we have to take a leap to believing that, having provided all those, the talent and genius is there to develop the new industries, the new commerce, the new universities and sound administration of tomorrow. I find that in our society many people are conservative with a small ‘c’. They tend to be just a little bit resistant to change, they tend to cling to yesterday's industries, to yesterday's courses, and yet I know, as a Conservative with a large ‘C’, that a society without the means of change is without the means of its own conservation. And so part of my role as government, and it is also part of yours, is to try to accelerate the process of change because only that way shall we keep a step ahead of our competitors, only that way shall we use the tremendous results of research both in the arts and science field, and turn them to the advantage of all our people.

So constantly I find myself trying to force the pace of change just a little bit faster, and so I was delighted when you came and asked me to open this building on this Science Park, because I regard this university as being in the foreground of harnessing change to the well-being of the society of which we are all a part. So I know my role and you are clearly fulfilling yours in a very active way. You have found a way here in this particular building and institution where we can harness the inventive genius of the scientist, the venture capital of the banks—and may I congratulate you? In this country we have been rather slower to provide venture capital, but it's coming, and may I congratulate the bank and the excellent work you have done and say that you have nothing to be modest about. And also you are doing something else, and I have learned in the excellent talks I have had with some of the academic staff this morning that it is not enough to have the inventive genius of the scientist, even harnessed to the finance of the bank and the people who put their savings. You also have to add to that the management of industrial development and good human relations. You are doing all three here. They are like the three legs of a stool, each has to be in balance if the stool is to be well balanced and to help us with the future.

I am not only speaking about science because I am a scientist—as a matter of fact I am the first scientist [end p3] to be Prime Minister which is something people always don't usually connect with my particular aspect of [words missing] … It has been extremely useful, and I know that, whether as scientist or social scientist, all of us need the enrichment and inspiration of the arts which we find in this university to such full measure as well, and among the social studies we all need the framework of law which in fact enables us to continue to be a free society. So we have everything here, and this Science Park and this venture building is a great example of what one can achieve. It's right that it should be in this part of the country. This led the industrial revolution in the last century and it's right that we here now should take on the mantle of being in the forefront both of the industrial and the artistic development as we come up to the end of this century and the beginning of the new millennium. And so may I say how pleased I am to have been invited, how delighted I am with what I have seen.

I can understand that when the Sir Keith JosephSecretary of State for Education visited here sometime ago, he came back absolutely bewitched with what you are doing and very nearly asked for a lot more money. Then we pointed out to him that, according to a study done by this university, the amount of externally financed research per head of university exceeds that of any other university in the United Kingdom. It is true that that study was done here and I am quite sure that the methodology would stand up to the most rigorous examination of all other universities. I should point out that Sussex was second, my own university Oxford only came third, but it did come ahead of Cambridge which came fourth. Nevertheless, Warwick leads the way. To the university you have added this Science Park, and this Science Park, this great new building which it is now my very great pleasure to open. And I hope that the young who will be hatched in this incubator will thrive and will grow to full maturity and will enhance the quality and prosperity of our lives, and in doing this we will all achieve what we most desire—a sense of personal satisfaction in work well done.