Policy Lunchbox: Science in the Devolved Nations Post Election

Today’s policy lunchbox organised by the Biochemical Society focussed on opportunities for influencing science policy in the devolved nations post election. A brief presentation led by Hilary Leevers from Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) preceded a discussion about the next steps for science policy work in the devolved nations.
16% of the UK’s population live in the devolved nations. Responsibility for primary, secondary and higher education has been devolved as well as some aspects of health policy and rural affairs policy.

CaSE have campaigned on science and engineering issues, by engaging MP’s, providing information to support policy making, and raising awareness of science as issue which interests voters. In the run up to the election in the devolved nations CaSE campaigned for the political parties in the devolved nations to include measures to promote science and engineering in their manifestoes.
These measures included:
– Appointing/ keeping a chief scientific advisor or science minister
– Increasing the number of Welsh speaking science graduates entering the teaching profession. 25% of schools in Wales teach at least 50% of their lessons in Welsh.
– Improving the science content of devolved nations’ school curricula. In Northern Ireland there is no requirement to teach maths and science post 14.
– Increasing the stability of funding in higher education institutions. Whilst funding for higher education Scotland appears to be fairly stable funding for higher education is increasingly unstable in Wales and Northern Ireland.
– Examining differences in funding for research in science and engineering between England and the devolved nations. Whilst the devolved nations have tended to spend more than England on research through the higher education teaching grant and the quality related research grant both Wales and Northern Ireland lack the critical mass to attract significant amounts of research council funding.

Pre-election CaSE sent out letters to the political parties of the devolved nations to ask them about their science and engineering policies, and analysed their manifestoes. The response to the letters was very good, with only 2 of 14 parties not replying. The Scottish National Party confirmed that the role of Chief Scientific Advisor will be retained after the election, and Welsh labour also pledged to keep their chief scientific advisor, and publish a science strategy for Wales later this year. Scotland is a leader on scientific issues, and many politicians see this as a source of national pride. Allowing the devolved nations to lead could be very productive for science policy.

The discussion that followed focussed on identifying areas of science policy in which success is likely to be achieved, and the lessons that can be learned from the devolved nations.

The devolved nations could act as a source of information for Westminster policy formation. For example the abolition of SATs at KS2 in Wales provides an excellent example of how case studies from the devolved nations could be useful in informing policy in England. A study by the Wellcome Trust showed that when SATs were abolished science subjects were still highly regarded by pupils and teachers several years later, suggesting that abolition of SATs in England is not likely to have a negative effect on science.

Finally the knowledge base built up by CaSE might prove useful if Scotland decide to separate from the union, and will allow us to hypothesise what might happen if this decision is made. It is possible research institutions in Scotland, which are highly reliant on Research Council funding, might loose a large proportion of their finances if the nation decides to leave the union.