Chancellor announces major new investment in science

The government has announced nearly £200 million in new science capital spending which it hopes will cement the UK’s status as “home to the greatest scientists and engineers”.

October 3, 2011

George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, announced at the Conservative Party conference today that the government was to spend £145 million on high performance computing and improving the UK’s e-infrastucture.

Another £50 million will be spent on a “graphene hub” to accelerate the commercial exploitation of the material, which was discovered at the University of Manchester.

Graphene is a one-atom thick form of carbon with a vast range of potential applications in and beyond electronics.

Before his speech Mr Osborne visited its discoverers, Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim, almost a year after the pair were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for physics.

“[They] could have gone anywhere in the world to conduct their research, but they chose the University of Manchester,” Mr Osborne said in his speech.

“Now countries like Singapore, Korea and America are luring them with lucrative offers to move their research overseas, but they want to stay here, in Britain [because] they think it’s the best country in the world for them and their work.”

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board will organise a competition for the award of the funding.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the winning bid would probably consist of a “hub and spoke” arrangement with a university as its hub.

The funding for e-infrastructure has been earmarked for a variety of projects, such as software development, data storage and cyber security.

The funding will be focused on the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus in Cheshire.

A BIS spokeswoman was unable to confirm whether any of the spending would be in higher education institutions, but David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said that as well as being a boost to business, the investment would also be of “enormous benefit” to the research base by enabling universities to “carry out highly sophisticated research and archive more data”.

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, welcomed the spending, coming on the heels of Mr Osborne’s announcement of an extra £100 million in science capital spending in this year’s Budget.

But he reiterated that the announcements came in the wake of “enormous cuts” to the UK research base, which would see UK research and development funding decrease by £1.7 billion by 2014-15.

He added that he understood the money would be found from under-spends on capital projects across government, but was unclear whether its allocation had been made “fully in concert” with the research councils.

“We need an explicit long-term strategy to put science and engineering at the heart of the UK’s economic recovery.

“If we don’t see that, home-growth discoveries like graphene could be a thing of the past.

“Hopefully, the chancellor’s important announcements today can help form the foundations of just such a strategy,” he said.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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