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Liberal Democrats champion investment in science and research

August 20, 2012 2:56 PM

Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Julian Huppert and Young Scientist of the Year 2010 Tom HearingLiberal Democrats are pushing for increased investment in science and research across the UK.

Proposals in three key areas - funding, people and skills, and the role of scientific advice - have been outlined by Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert in a policy motion which will be put to members at the party's Autumn Conference. Julian was a research scientist at the University of Cambridge before his election to Parliament.

Key proposals include:

  • A target to increase the ring-fenced government science budget above inflation over the next 15 years
  • A commitment to improve science and maths teaching in schools
  • Immigration rules that encourage bona fide students and experts to come to the UK.

Commenting, Julian Huppert said:

"Despite low levels of funding, the UK has outperformed other countries, some which invest almost twice as much in research and development.

"There is clear evidence that government investment in research and development incentivises and creates the conditions for additional private sector investment.

"The UK must also develop an education and training system to produce a highly-skilled workforce that supports research and innovation. Improving science and maths education in schools must be a priority if we are to inspire the next generation.

"Finally, one of the key contributions to the UK's success in the sciences has been our ability to attract researchers and scientists from across the world, allowing free exchange of knowledge and ideas. If we do not have an immigration system that actively encourages top scientists and academics to come to the UK then they will go elsewhere.

"These proposals challenge the way the government thinks about science, redirecting money to where it benefits the economy, improving our ability to attract the brightest minds and giving the next generation the skills they need to compete in an ever-changing world."

The full text of the conference motion, which will be debated at Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Brighton on Monday 24 September 2012 is below, and the full policy paper written by Julian Huppert follows.

Developing a Future - Policies for Science and Research

Conference notes that:

  1. The UK spends less than 2% of GDP on research and development, less than it did in the 1980s and significantly less than OECD and G7 averages.
  2. OECD analyses suggest that public investment in research and development pulls in private sector investment, rather than crowding it out.
  3. Despite historically poor funding, the UK has performed extremely well in research outputs, whether measured in academic papers published or in key inventions and discoveries.
  4. It is very hard to predict at the outset what the impact of blue-skies research will be - the Internet, lasers, and monoclonal antibodies have had huge, unpredictable benefits.
  5. There is a shortage of people entering and remaining in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers, particularly women and those from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds.
  6. Research and development are global activities, with people and ideas from around the world being needed for successful progress.

Conference believes that:

I. Investment in research and development is critical to the current and future economic success of the UK.

II. Curiosity in the way the world works is to be encouraged for its own sake, to build deeper understanding, as well as for economic growth.

III. If we are to keep the brightest and the best in UK science and research, we need to:

a. Ensure that STEM subjects are well taught in schools and universities.

b. Ensure that academic and research careers are fulfilling and well supported.

c. Ensure that immigration rules do not place arbitrary barriers in the way of skilled individuals coming to or remaining in the UK.

IV. Policymaking should be evidence-based, and scientific advice into policy making should be impartial and independent.

Conference calls on the Coalition Government to ensure that:

  1. The Government science budget is ring-fenced, for both revenue and capital expenditure. We aim to increase the ring-fenced science budget by 3% above inflation for 15 years, and will seek to arrange a cross-party consensus to deliver this over such a timescale.
  2. Encouragement is provided for research investment by industry, charities, and the EU.
  3. 'Blue-skies' research continues to be well funded, in parallel to applied research, and that political interference in science funding decisions is avoided.
  4. Specialist science teachers are available in all schools, with funded continuous professional development entitlements.
  5. Immigration laws are revised to ensure that bona fide international students can continue to come to the UK to study, that the best and the brightest can stay in the UK, work and settle after graduation, and that special provision is made for academics, scientists and other chartered individuals to work and settle in the UK.
  6. An income-contingent loan scheme is established for post-graduate students, so that they do not have to pay the cost of their courses up-front.
  7. Open Access publications and Open Data principles become the norm for publicly funded research.

The Policy Document - Developing a Future: Policies for Science and Research can be downloaded here.