Read the Alliance Party's response to CaSE's letter, setting out the party's commitments that are relevant to the science and engineering sector ahead of the 2015 Election

In the run-up to the 2015 UK General Election, CaSE has written to the leader of every political partywith at least one MP in Westminster, sending them our election briefings and asking them to set out their manifesto commitments that are relevant to the science and engineering sector.

Below is the response from the leader of the Alliance Party, Mr David Ford

Dear CaSE,

Alliance is committed to promoting science and has delivered significantly on this commitment in the past. For example, Stephen Farry MLA, the Minister for Employment and Learning, has

  • Created 1350 Additional STEM Undergraduate Places
  • Increased in publically funded PhDs, a number of which are in economically relevant areas

Through this, we have actively promoted science and engineering in Northern Ireland through those levers at our disposal. However, science is a policy area which is spread across both devolved- and non-devolved areas and we are committed to ensuring that the potential for science in Northern Ireland is maximised.

In Westminster, Alliance MPs will work on those areas highlighted by CaSE in their letter.

1. Boost government and business investment in UK research and development

In Westminster we will support the following changes to improve the standing of science:

  • Increase investment in science and research through the UK Research Councils. There is a clear link globally between state investment in science and economic prosperity.
  • Support Northern Ireland’s university to draw down greater levels of science and research funding from both the Research Councils and the European Union.
  • Audit what scientific infrastructure is lacking in the UK and ensure this is considered as part of the UK’s scientific investment programmes.
  • Specifically identify what gap exists in both funding and infrastructure for science in Northern Ireland.

2. Ensure that the UK has the diverse pool of talented people it needs to drive our future scientific success

We believe that one of the factors that will best ensure that talented people look for scientific success in the Northern Ireland (and the rest of the UK) will be to ensure we have the best possible environment in which to practise. This will allow the most qualified scientists to operate from within Northern Ireland.

From the perspective of Northern Ireland, developing an economy based on high-tech and scientific jobs will be essential to prevent people with scientific skills leaving for employment elsewhere.

3. Ensure that a high quality science and engineering education is encouraged and open to all

It is widely accepted that we need a workforce that has strong skills in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths. Research has shown there will be a growing demand for individuals trained and educated in these subject areas.

However, this increasing demand is set against a backdrop of a declining number of young people choosing to study STEM related subjects at school, college and university in Northern Ireland.

Encouraging an increase in the number of individuals holding STEM related qualifications is key to ensuring a workforce that is able to contribute toward areas regarded as having future growth potential both here and internationally, e.g. advanced manufacturing, ICT, low carbon industries and agri-foods. Understanding and competency in STEM subjects is also required to increase levels of research and development in Northern Ireland and to provide businesses with the skills to absorb innovation into their working practices.

The Alliance Employment and Learning Minister in Northern Ireland is implementing the Skills Strategy, including its targets to increase participation in STEM subjects, and the specific STEM Strategy. A particular focus is around gender representation.

The implementation of our wider skills policy objectives and the embedding of STEM as a key driver within the skills agenda will also support an increase in uptake. Areas such as agri-food, the green economy, pharmaceuticals, finance and ICT will be supported through the drive to improve STEM.

4. Improve the use of scientific expertise to inform policy-making in government

Alliance has long ensured that they support evidence-based decision-making. However, we are increasingly concerned that on some issues, particularly in the health service, priority is not being given to medical evidence in the decision-making process.

Alliance MPs will continue to ensure that scientific and technical evidence is taken into account when formulating legislation and when scrutinising government.

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