Minister sets out measures to make UK best place in world to do science

Posted on 28 Jan 2016 by Jonny Williamson

Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson has set out his vision to ensure the UK remains a global leader in science and engineering.

Delivering the annual Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) lecture, he highlighted the importance of the UK’s international research partnerships and the strength of ties with European research partners.

Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson touring the CPI National Biologics Manufacturing Centre.
Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson touring the CPI National Biologics Manufacturing Centre.

Addressing an audience of 400 scientists and engineers at the prestigious event at the Royal Institution, the minister noted: “Our global scientific impact far exceeds our size as a nation, and our scientists and engineers stand tall on the world’s stage.

“We want Britain to be the best place in Europe to innovate, and by protecting the science budget we’re giving the clearest signal that science and innovation sit at the very heart of this government’s economic plan.

“Extending the Newton Fund provides a unique opportunity for UK academics to work with partners around the world to address some of the biggest challenges of our time.”

Best in Europe, Best in the World

Johnson highlighted the strength of the UK’s research partnerships with Europe and the rest of the world, commenting that around half of all UK research publications now involve international collaborations, and European countries provide some of the UK’s closest research ties.

New funding aimed at putting the UK at the forefront of international research and inspire the next generation of world-class scientists include:

  • Doubling the Newton Fund for international research from its current £75m a year to £150m by 2021, meaning a total investment of £735m from 2014 to 2021. The fund helps enable UK scientists to partner with academics and researchers in developing countries and emerging markets to support their economic development and the UK’s research base.
  • A new government partnership with the Wellcome Trust to deliver the £30m Inspiring Science Capital Fund (with £20m from government and £10m from the trust). Science centres and attractions across the UK will be able to bid into the fund to refresh and refurbish exhibitions and infrastructure to inspire young people from all backgrounds to engage with science and consider a STEM career.

He added: “Because of the excellence of our research base, it is no surprise that the UK is one of the most successful players in EU research programmes.”

The UK received €7bn under the last Framework Programme (2007 to 2013).

That made the UK one of the largest beneficiaries of EU research funding.

In the current funding round, Horizon 2020, the UK has secured 15.4% of funds, behind only Germany on 16.5%, and with the second largest number of participating organisations.

Global challenges

The Newton Fund supports British academic collaboration with international partners aimed at extending the reach of the UK’s research base and forging links with developing countries that have strong scientific ambitions.

Established in 2014, 181 programmes have already been supported through the Newton Fund, from tackling the impact of climate change on rice production in Vietnam to reducing Malaria cases in Colombia.

Projects are co-funded by partner countries, helping to unlock further investment.

The Newton Fund complements the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund, announced at the Spending Review, which presents an opportunity to deploy the UK’s world-class research capability to address the challenges facing the developing world.

Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers

The Minister also set out the importance of inspiring the next generation of scientists, announcing a new £30m Inspiring Science Capital Fund.

Bethany Thomas (aged 23), reactor chemistry engineer at EDF Energy.
The Minister also set out the importance of inspiring the next generation of scientists.

The fund will enable Science Centres and other attractions to grow their STEM outreach activities through the creation of new exhibitions, as well as science laboratory and education spaces to better accommodate schools and visiting groups.

Applicants will need to demonstrate how the funding would help them to engage underserved and underrepresented audiences.

The Government has already established several STEM initiatives to encourage more young people into relevant careers, including 31,000 STEM Ambassadors from science and academia across the UK (including Britain’s first astronaut Tim Peake), and the National Science and Engineering competition.

Science budget allocations

In the recent Spending Review, the Government committed to protecting science resource funding in real terms from its current level of £4.7bn a year for the rest of the parliament.

It also committed to invest in new scientific infrastructure on a record scale – delivering £6.9bn, meaning a total investment of £30.4bn in science to 2019/20.

Johnson indicated in his speech that allocations for the Research Councils will be made next month and invited the whole research community to engage with Research Council and Innovate UK as they develop their delivery plans.

EEF comment

Felicity Burch, senior economist, EEF.

Senior Economist at EEF, Felicity Burch commented: “European research funding is an example of how the EU can get it right. It’s not just science that benefits from EU support for research, but the private sector too.

“The EU’s Framework Programmes create tangible benefits for manufacturers, providing finance and facilitating the kinds of international collaborative relationships that are increasingly necessary for successful innovation.

“Moreover, the fundamental principles of the EU, such as the free movement of people and the single market, create the right conditions to sell innovative products. Increased international collaboration, not less, will also be part of the route to success for the manufacturing sector.”