Science minister Ian Taylor this week launched a project to find out how 17 to 25-year-olds think science and technology will affect their future over the next two decades.
Kicking off the initiative at the British Association for the Advancement of Science festival at Newcastle University, Mr Taylor said the project will allow managers of tomorrow to think seriously about how science and technology should be shaped to create wealth and improve the quality of life. Called "Visions for the Future", the project is organised by the BA and will feature a nationwide series of debates at universities. Discussion topics will be framed around the Foresight exercise and will include agriculture, information technology, environment and food and drink.
Mr Taylor said it was important to have more young people choosing careers in science and engineering. It was a "misguided" perception that young scientists and engineers were poorly paid and only chartered accountants reached top management, he said.
However, shadow science minister John Battle told the BA that science had been "marginalised, demoted and treated with indifference" by the Government. He said that the transfer of the Office of Science and Technology to the Department of Trade and Industry meant that science policy was now dominated by "the economics of the fast buck".
Mr Battle said that Government research and development spending was projected to fall by 7 per cent in real terms in 1997-98, a cut of more than Pounds 1 billion on the spend in 1986. "The DTI alone has cut back research and development spending by 68 per cent in four years and this is the very department that has taken over the OST."
He said that the the Labour Party by contrast understood that investment in research and development was central to the economic future of Britain: "Positive support for a developing manufacturing base needs to be fostered and policy must also understand and value the contribution of basic research to quality of life as well as longer term economic issues."
Mr Battle said only new Labour had a policy for partnership between a thriving private sector and public enterprise.