Industrial expenditure on research and development should be boosted by billions of pounds, and also be accompanied by a rapid increase in the number of university students studying science, in order to create greater demand for scientists, says a joint union report.
While R&D expenditure is declining in the United Kingdom, it is growing among our major competitors, says the report, prepared by an alliance of unions which includes the Association of University Teachers, the Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists and lecturers' union Natfhe.
They say that the poor image of scientists in Britain is largely due to their low status, low pay and job insecurity when compared with other professionals, a situation quite unlike that in countries such as France, Germany, Japan and the United States. "The high status, school-leaver popularity, relatively higher pay and job security of medicine shows how a different career pattern can radically influence public perception," says the report.
It recommends prioritising science shortage subject areas with the help of the Foresight programme and funding incentives. There should also be rapid expansion of postgraduate awards in shortage subjects, plus extra funds to reflect the expansion in student numbers which has already taken place to allow academics more time for basic research.
There should be more science teachers with degrees in their main teaching subject, say the unions. A levels should be reformed to open up possibilities for more science subjects to be studied at age 17/18 or at GNVQ levels 2 or 3.
The report also suggests that the Treasury should investigate causes of financial short-termism in the City. Tackling this may mean changes to finance and company law and stock market rules.