Britain has an excellent track record in science and research, with many great figures in natural sciences, humanities, computing, computing, engineering and mathematics over the years. We continue to outperform other countries in our achievements in these fields, in terms of outputs per person and per pound. We publish 13.8% of the world’s most cited papers, and massively outperform other countries on papers and citations per pound spent or per researcher.
However, we should not just assume that this will just continue automatically, and the UK needs both a thorough vision and policies that support science and research. It is in our own self-interest – our economy benefits greatly from the skills that we develop here in the UK and the knowledge that we obtain – and it ensures we can play our part globally in developing human understanding.
The Liberal Democrats have played a leading role in developing thinking among political parties in this area; people such as Evan Harris and Phil Willis, to name just two, have made sure that we were seen as a pro-science party. We took a lead in many policy areas of importance for science: highlighting the need for stable long-term science funding, for evidence-based policy making (such as in drugs reform), for libel reform to stop scientists being silenced, and emphasising the need for immigration policies that allow top scientists, engineers and academics to come into the country. We have repeatedly led the way.
The Guardian concluded in 2010 in a report on the different party science policies that ‘the Liberal Democrats have set a very high standard, with their engagement with the scientific community, and their commitment to evidence-based policy informed by advice from independent experts’.
However, our formal science and research policy has not been updated for many years, and as a Party we have relied on individual advocates, rather than a detailed written document.
Since the Coalition Government was formed, the Liberal Democrats have been influential in a number of areas – ensuring that the revenue science budget was protected, pushing for more capital funding, supporting the recreation of SMART awards for innovation, and much more. But there is also much that we haven’t yet managed to do – or where things have not gone in the right direction.
I have therefore been asked to produce a new science policy paper, which will hopefully go to our autumn conference to be discussed, debated and agreed. This will cover STEM subjects, social sciences and the humanities, pure research through to applied research and commercialisation, as well as issues of how government should use science and evidence in policy formulation.
Production of this policy paper will be useful for us in the second half of this government, providing a clear vision and list of priorities in this area. Additionally, it will ensure that our 2015 manifesto covers this area significantly.
The policy document will cover a range of issues, including but not limited to:
- Money – how it is allocated, and funding sources, and how to attract more investment.
- People – how to provide the right skills from school through to postgrad education, career structures, suitable immigration policies, and how to ensure gender/socioeconomic balances.
- Science in policy – how government and parliament should utilise science and evidence, what role government should play in managing what research is carried out, and the correct balance between pure and applied work.
I would be grateful for your thoughts on what principles and policies you feel we should include in this updated document. I have set up the email address [email protected] – please send any ideas you have there.
I look forward to hearing from you with your suggestions!
* Julian Huppert is Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.