Science policies laid out ahead of general election

The UK’s main political parties have laid out their plans for science just days before the official general election campaign kicks off

March 27, 2015

The Campaign for Science and Engineering wrote to all political parties with at least one MP asking them to set out their manifesto commitments for science and engineering. Their responses have been published on the CaSE website today.

Prime Minister David Cameron says that the Conservative Policy Unit is “carefully considering” policies ahead of its 2015 manifesto. “[H]owever I can assure you that making sure we have a world-class science and engineering industry is part of the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan,” he adds.

Mr Cameron says that the party will ensure the science and engineering industry “remains one of the world’s best”. He mentions the £4.6 billion a year that the government committed up to 2015-16 to fund research, as well as the £5.9 billion that will be invested in science capital up to 2021.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, says that the strong science and engineering base was one of the nation’s “greatest assets”. He says that science and engineering play a central role in Labour’s plan to raise living standards and rebalance the economy.

He adds that a Labour government will introduce a long-term funding framework to “provide the stability and long-termism that our research base and companies need”. In a bid to close the skills gap, Labour will introduce new technical degrees that will be delivered in partnership with industry.

In his letter Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, pledges to ring-fence the science budget and ensure that by 2020 both capital and revenue spending will have increased at least in line with inflation. The Liberal Democrats will also aim to “double innovation and research spending across the economy”, which will be supported by “greater public funding on a longer timescale”, more catapult centres and innovation support from the Green Investment Bank.

Mr Clegg added that he would ensure immigration rules do not place “arbitrary barriers” in the way of skilled individuals coming to or remaining in the UK. He said that if elected, the Liberal Democrats would reinstate post-study work visas for STEM graduates in the next parliament.

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, says she wants to double public spending on research over the next 10 years so that it reaches 1 per cent of GDP. Ms Bennett also makes a commitment to fund specific areas of science such as climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.

“All research carried out at universities, even if privately funded, would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. And we will work to ensure that libel laws cannot be used to stifle scientific debate or academic freedom,” she says.

Undergraduate tuition fees would be removed under a Green Party government and student grants reintroduced, she adds.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, says the party has a “keen interest in advancing science and technology” and will abolish tuition fees for students pursuing science, technology, engineering and maths degrees.

“Ukip also advocates leaving the European Union and reviewing the wealth of EU regulations and directives as passed into British law. This will obviously include regulations which relate to science and technology issues and which, in our opinion, have been unnecessarily restrictive when it comes to research and/or have hampered smaller-scale research projects which cannot get off the ground because of the cost of the weight of regulation they will have to comply with,” he says.

The policy office of Plaid Cymru says that the party would put a “distinct emphasis on scientific research” in order to put Wales at the “forefront of environmentally sound and socially responsible technical innovations”.

Plaid Cymru would push for Welsh universities to get more research funding from UK and European sources. It also believes “in principle” that higher education should be free for all and will continue to work towards achieving this aim.

Subsidies for students wishing to study in Wales will be provided and those studying subjects “vital to the Welsh economy” will pay no tuition fees in Wales, says its response.

The Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, responding on behalf of the Scottish National Party government, says that science, technology, engineering and maths are key to “achieving the overall goal of creating a more successful Scotland” and the party is “committed to positioning Scotland as a nation of innovation”.

As an example of its policies in this area, it cites its investments in Innovation Centres, which are building links between universities and businesses.

Three parties from Northern Ireland – the DUP, SDLP and Alliance Party – also provide their views.

Naomi Weir, CaSE acting director, said that although science and engineering was not set to take centre stage in the election, it was essential to drive the economy, create jobs and tackle the challenges that lie ahead. These are the reasons the next government must back science and engineering,” she said.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

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