The Conservative Party’s plans for Science Policy

Adam Afriyie MP, Conservative Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation, joined policy officers and others at The Royal Academy of Engineering this afternoon at an event organised by PolicyNet. Mr Afriyie discussed the Conservative Party’s plans for Science and Engineering policy. A key message from the Shadow Minister was that his party believe that science is vitally important in helping to boost the economy and lift the country out of recession. He recognised the importance of long-term stable investment in science, which he said would be achieved through a ‘multi-year’ ring-fenced budget.

Although he emphasised that there are no plans for a major revolution in science policy, he mentioned several key areas in which the Conservatives plan to make changes. He spoke about how the Conservative Party plans to transform the UK into a European leader for high-tech exports (Britain is currently second in the EU, behind Germany). The science education system would be improved, by making studying triple science available to all students, and improving science teaching by repaying student loans of top graduates for every year they spend in the classroom. There are also plans to create a science literacy programme, open to all new MPs and compulsory for Conservative MPs, which would be run by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

Adam Afriyie also mentioned that there would be a moratorium on the Research Excellence Framework for up to two years, until a full understanding of how best to measure impact is achieved, a plan which is likely to be welcomed by many scientists. However a perhaps less popular aspect of the Conservative’s plans was that Adam Afriyie gave the impression that his party did not see the importance of having a Science Minister in cabinet. In speaking on this point, Mr Afriyie suggested that more significant was that the Conservative Party, if successfully elected to Government, accepted the importance of science at the highest level of administration. Many in the science community will be disappointed that the Conservatives are not commited to giving science a seat at the Cabinet table.

In the coming weeks, science spokespeople from the other main political parties will be speaking at further events organised by PolicyNet. Meanwhile, each major political party will release its manifesto this week. Adam Afriye indicated that science would be included in the Conservative manifesto: the BES Policy Team will post more information here when it is available.