Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, set out his vision to ensure the UK remained a global leader in science and engineering throughout a potentially difficult few years ahead.
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.
In the speech, he announced new funding to put the UK at the forefront of international research and inspire the next generation of world-class scientists. These include:
Doubling the Newton Fund for international research from its current £75 million per year to £150 million per year by 2021, meaning a total investment of £735 million from 2014 to 2021. The fund will 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 £30 million Inspiring Science Capital Fund (with £20 million from government and £10 million from the Wellcome 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.
Addressing an audience of 400 scientists and engineers at the prestigious event at the Royal Institution, Jo Johnson said: “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.”
In his speech, Jo Johnson highlighted the strength of the UK’s research partnerships with Europe and the rest of the world. He said that around half of all UK research publications now involve international collaborations, and European countries provide some of the UK’s closest research ties.
Mr Johnson said: “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 €7 billion 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.
In his speech, the minister also set out the importance of inspiring the next generation of scientists. He announced a new £30 million Inspiring Science Capital Fund – £20 million from government and £10 million from the Wellcome Trust – which will support the UK’s science centres and attractions, offering schools and families hands-on experiences of science and engineering by bringing ideas, research and inventions to life.
The Inspiring Science Capital 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.
In the recent Spending Review the government committed to protecting science resource funding in real terms from its current level of £4.7 billion a year for the rest of the parliament. It also committed to invest in new scientific infrastructure on a record scale – delivering £6.9 billion, meaning a total investment of £30.4 billion in science to 2019 to 2020.
Jo 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.
Jo Johnson delivered the CaSE annual lecture, “Making Britain the best place in the world for science” on Wednesday 27 January 2016 at the Royal Institution, London.