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Sometimes the stars align!

02 Dec 2016

In the final blog of our 30th Anniversary series our chairman Professor Graeme Reid looks at recent science funding success, and future hopes for UK investment

CaSE celebrated its 30th anniversary in mid-November 2016.  Shortly beforehand, we joined forces with the National Academies, Russell Group, CBI, House of Commons Science Committee and others to call for a major increase in science funding. A week after our anniversary, the Government announced the largest increase in science and innovation funding for more than 30 years, with a rise of £2billion per annum by the next election.  I knew that CaSE and its members had good relationships with Jo Johnson, Greg Clark and Treasury officials – but I didn’t think they were that good!

Looking from a distance, it might appear that lobbying from CaSE and others shortly before a fiscal event leads immediately to a result.  As usual, the reality is somewhat different.  Big decisions on public funding for science and engineering follow many months of detailed evidence-gathering, debate and analysis by Ministers, Parliamentary Committees, civil servants, funding bodies and external stakeholders like CaSE.  Even then, the outcome depends on alignment of the evidence and arguments with a wider political agenda.  Much of CaSE’s work is done behind the scenes, finding the best opportunities to argue for science and engineering and building the trust that allows these arguments to make an impact.  

This recent funding decision re-sets the baseline for research funding in the UK. It will be a milestone that remains visible 30 years into the future. It happens in the context of stagnant productivity, major societal challenges and Brexit.  Reforms to immigration policy, wise judgements on resource allocation and a stronger flow of young people from all backgrounds into STEM careers are needed before the funding increase can deliver its greatest potential. CaSE will be working on all these fronts on behalf of its members.

30 years from now, what can we hope for in return from this investment in science and engineering? I would like more prosperity for more people in the UK, improved healthcare, better provision of energy and infrastructure, a strong UK contribution to economic and societal challenges in developing nations and I want the UK to continue its prominent role in global environmental policy. 

But I also want more: I want to support UK researchers at the very frontiers of knowledge. Maybe, just maybe, they will better understand the relationship between brain and mind; whether life exists on other planets; the ecosystems at the greatest ocean depths and why gravity exists. I want our successors to reach the 22nd Century in a better state than we arrived in the 21st. I want researchers to search for answers to questions I haven’t even thought of.

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