Science and discovery centres contribute to the education of young people about science and inspire them to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They also engage the public with scientific issues and play important roles in their local communities. However, there is widespread concern about the future of science centres.
Many science centres are struggling financially. We agree with the Government’s stance that it should not fund failing science centres and note that there is a lack of robust evidence that demonstrates how effective science centres are in terms of their core goals. We recommend that the Government commission independent research to ascertain the effectiveness of science centres.
In the short term there are a number of science centres that risk closure and the Government should take steps to ensure that this does not happen. We recommend that the Government make available limited, competitively-awarded, short-term funding to support those science centres that are struggling financially. We also recommend that steps are taken to reduce the tax burden on science and other educational centres.
We found the level of co-ordination and collaboration between science centres and between science centres and other bodies to be variable. The Association for Science and Discovery Centres is well placed to assess models that exist in Scotland and internationally, with a view to implementing structural and best practice guidance that promotes co-ordination between science centres across the UK. In terms of Government co-ordination, there has been uncertainty about which department has responsibility for science centres. We welcome the Minister for Science and Innovation’s offer, on behalf of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, to take responsibility for science centres, and recommend that this responsibility be formally written into the Minister’s portfolio.