Party policies on science and engineering

On March 5th, the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) wrote to the leaders of the main political parties asking them to set out their policies on science and engineering prior to the election (the letter was also published in the Times). Responses have been received from David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats. A response from Gordon Brown, leader of the Labour Party, has not yet been received, but his party have promised to respond before the election. A summary will be posted here when the response is received by CaSE.

David Cameron’s letter reiterated many of the commitments in the Conservative manifesto but also mentioned some additional plans, including establishing new Technical Academies for vocational education in each of the 12 largest cities in England. Regarding the proposed postponement and review of the Research Excellence Framework, Mr Cameron’s letter recognised the difficulties of measuring ‘impact’ of research, and stated that if it is not possible to find a impact measurement that is robust and accepted by the scientific community, then it would be removed from the framework. The letter emphasised the Conservative party’s focus on developing policy that would create the conditions for Britain to become Europe’s leading high-tech exporter. In the letter, Mr Cameron also highlighted plans to establish a clearer definition of the Haldane principle (that decisions on individual research proposals are best delegated to scientific experts).

Nick Clegg’s letter mentioned a key issue from the Liberal Democrat manifesto, which relates to planned measures to support women in science and engineering, including improving careers advice and examining ways in which the impact of the ‘publication gap’ for those who take a career break to raise a family can be minimised. The letter mentioned plans for improving career structure for young researchers through creating more post-doctoral positions, and making PhDs more industry friendly. Regarding research impact assessment, the letter stated that the Liberal Democrats would support making it a requirement for scientists to consider the potential impact of their work for all grant applications, but this should not be used to decide whether projects are funded or not. Mr Clegg’s letter highlighted plans to improve the use of Science in government, through moving the Government Office for Science from BIS to the Cabinet Office, and reforming the scope of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology so that it has a more proactive role in informing parliamentary activities.