Making the UK “the best place to do science”

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), of which the British Ecological Society is a member, has this week launched three policy briefings which together comprise a “toolkit” for government to achieve its aims of making the UK the “best place to do science”. Based on consultations across the breadth of the science and engineering community, the toolkit outlines key actions that could be taken over the course of the next Parliament to enable the sector to “operate at its full potential”. The toolkit consists of three policy briefings covering Science and Engineering Investment, Science and Engineering Education and Skills, and Science and Engineering in Government, outlining priority and supporting actions that could be taken in each area.

With respect to Science and Engineering Investment, the policy briefing centres around an overarching action of committing to a long-term investment strategy for science and engineering, constituting an “upward trajectory for government investment” that “exceeds predicted growth as part of a 10 year framework for investment”. UK government investment in science and engineering research and development is currently below the OECD average, and the briefing argues that raising investment to a level comparable with other nations within a stable framework will “enable the UK to reap the economic and societal rewards of its strength in science and engineering, driving UK innovation and creating skilled and valued jobs”.

The Science and Engineering Education and Skills briefing focuses on three main areas: 5-19 education, higher education and the STEM workforce. In terms of 5-19 education, the major priority identified is policy stability, enabling schools to focus on teaching young people rather than needing to adapt to complex system changes. Other priorities include the requirement for all primary schools to have science subject leaders, and the inclusion of practical skills across all secondary science curricula.

In higher education, the major action identified is a commitment to providing sufficient funding to meet the additional costs associated with science and engineering courses. A further priority is reform to postgraduate funding to ensure that the system is fair, accessible and conducive to producing a highly skilled workforce. In terms of the STEM workforce, the briefing outlines the need for a proactive commitment to ensuring diversity, including unconscious bias training for Research Councils UK grant awarding boards and panels, and immigration policy that supports science and innovation policy through enabling and encouraging highly skilled migration.

Finally, Science and Engineering in Government outlines a number of actions that could be taken to strengthen the use of an evidence-informed approach to policymaking across the whole of government. In order to embed independent scientific advice at the heart of policymaking, the briefing recommends that the Government Office for Science and the post of Government Chief Scientific Adviser are relocated to the Cabinet Office, and that all departments appoint their own Chief Scientific Adviser. The briefing also places an emphasis on transparency, asking that the government publish all responses to consultations to allow greater clarity in understanding how policy decisions have been reached, and also that all publicly-funded government research is made freely and easily accessible online.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering Toolkit will be sent to the leaders of all political parties represented in the House of Commons, asking them to set out their relevant manifesto commitments. The responses will be published on the CaSE website before the end of the year.

You can view the full toolkit on the CaSE website.