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Letters from party leaders back science and engineering

01 Jun 2017

Press release: comment from Sarah Main on the letters we have received from party leaders setting out their positions on science and engineering.

Alongside this, CaSE have analysed party manifestos for commitments under six areas we believe are important to the future health of UK science and engineering: education, immigration, global leadership and collaboration, investment, evidence, and regulation.

CaSE Executive Director, Dr Sarah Main said:  

“The letters we’ve received, backed by manifesto commitments, show all parties claiming that science and innovation is the key to a prosperous Britain. But their proposals for supporting UK science and engineering are very different.

It’s great to see our major parties all championing science with such conviction. They seem to be bidding to out-do each other in the voracity of their commitments, with huge​ ​investment in R&D ​promised ​across the board​. 

But how will each party’s wider policies support their science and innovation ambitions? Their very different stances on Brexit have a knock-on effect on the ways in which each party would tackle regulation, trade, immigration and collaboration – all essential to the UK’s science endeavour. They take very different approaches to education, proposing some transformative changes which would have significant impact on ​science and engineering​.

​I’m delighted to see cross-party support for a step-change in the UK’s investment in science and innovation. It is vital that this public money is spent well, which means the next Government must ensure its policies align, across industry, academia and across the UK, to make the most out of our scientific strength.”

Breaking down the commitments of each party, Dr Sarah Main said:

“The Conservatives are forthright in their claims to want to make the UK a leading science and innovation nation. Their investment commitments are strong, to invest 2.4% of GDP in R&D by 2027,​​ but their aims for international science leadership are likely to be made more difficult to deliver by their current immigration positions and a hard Brexit.​ Immigration policy is particularly challenging for science and engineering, with the commitment to enable businesses to be able to recruit “the brightest and the best” and universities to “attract international students” seeming to be at odds with plans to “bear down” on immigration as part of their aim to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.

Labour reference Attlee and Wilson, drawing on their history to claim to be “the party of science”. They place R&D investment, of 3% of GDP by 2030, at the heart of their industrial and economic plans, aiming for science and innovation benefits to be “reaped by us all,” committing to “encouraging greater regional equality” in R&D funding. Their ‘middle road’ on Brexit, signals an end to free movement but “seeks to retain the benefits of the single market” and access to European research funding programmes and organisations such as Horizon 2020 and the European Medicines Agency.

The Liberal Democrats tell us they “are campaigning to keep the UK within the Single Market” enabling them to much more clearly commit to continued access to European research funding programmes. They make a number of commitments that are specific to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), such as addressing teaching shortages in STEM and reinstating post-study work visas for graduates in STEM. Their “long-term aim” is for investment in R&D to reach 3% of GDP, with a commitment for it to rise in line with inflation.

The three major parties have very different ideas for education, which will impact on the supply of people into STEM careers. In schools, the Conservatives focus on outcomes such as knowing times tables, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats focus on supporting teachers. The Conservatives propose a new technical education system that will see Institutes of Technology able to ​provide degree-level courses, specialising in STEM. Labour propose free adult education and no tuition fees for undergraduate degrees. The Liberal Democrats would reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students. Science and engineering are expensive to teach, not least because they require laboratory space and equipment. Any models for higher and further education must attempt to address the costing challenge that science and engineering education a national need, but an institutional cost.”

Read CaSE’s letter to the party leaders. For all the party leaders’ responses and our manifesto analysis, look at our election 2017 page.