Science and Technology in British Politics

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Read More. All Contents Entries. Items per page: 10 20 50 Adams, John — Adenauer, Konrad — Adorno, Theodor W. Afghanistan War — Afghanistan War In a laissez-faire environment, the growth of these clusters will continue at the expense of other areas, and is a natural consequence of economics. A key aspect of this is the so-called agglomeration effect.

Small and large companies want to be in an environment where there is complementary expertise and industry all around them. There is a reason that AstraZeneca moved its research headquarters from the North of England. Fortunately for the UK, they chose Cambridge. The move to Cambridge would not make sense on the basis of cost alone: housing costs for their employees, as well as running costs, are much higher in Cambridge. Given the geographical inequalities it generates, a laissez-faire approach to future growth is not sustainable politically.

How then should a strategy ensure that different parts of the country are not left behind? It would be a mistake to artificially prop up designated parts of the country with targeted investments that may simply favour existing industries in decline. Some cities have reversed decline by investing in completely new areas. For example, Pittsburgh, in decline due to the loss of its steel industry, is rejuvenating through investment in new technologies, facilitated by its universities, including Carnegie-Mellon, a world leader in computer science and robotics.

Identifying how to reverse economic decline in a particular area is not easy. But that is not an argument for inaction, particularly in a post-Brexit world, which is more, not less, challenging for the UK. The UK Government has launched a new industrial strategy to reinvigorate economic growth in the UK and to ensure its equitable distribution.

The Royal Society and other academies have argued that science and innovation must be an essential component of such a strategy. It sends a strong message that post-Brexit the UK is committed to being a leader in science and innovation. The announcement of increased spending on infrastructure is also welcome. Careful thought must be paid to nurturing potential areas where the UK has particular strengths.

Targeted investment to kickstart a new sector may be required if the UK wants a place at the global table.

Rather than picking winning companies, competition can be preserved by support for a range of companies, either through competitive project support, or competitive procurement from the Ministry of Defence or the National Health Service. For the benefits of economic growth to be widely dispersed geographically infrastructure investment should aim to reduce the isolation and improve the connectivity of the entire country.

High speed connectivity — both virtual through the internet and real through transport — will ensure that those places currently left behind will quickly connect to high-growth areas nearby. The UK has large centres that are, or could be, the nucleus for future growth. For example, if connected to each other and surrounding areas, the Manchester-Sheffield-Leeds area, with several leading universities, could be an engine of growth not only for those cities, but also for Grimsby and Hull.

Similarly, large parts of East Anglia could be connected to Norwich and Cambridge. High-speed links — both physical and virtual — will ensure that residents will be able to live where they want to and work where jobs are being created.

Revealed: What the UK public really thinks about the future of science

Importantly, increased connectivity will fuel the development of local industries as part of an expanding cluster. Growth requires large pools of skilled workers. Given the debate over immigration, it is essential to create a sufficiently large and skilled local workforce, which will require a substantial and sustained investment in education over considerable time. The Royal Society has advocated a broad-based curriculum and science and mathematics education throughout secondary school in order to prepare future generations for the knowledge-based economy.

One of my predecessors at the Royal Society, Lord Martin Rees, who was Master of Trinity College, recalls that as a young scientist, it was the norm to go to the US for further training, but today scientists were just as likely or more likely to go to other European countries. That is due to the recovery and growth of European science after the devastation of two world wars, and the greater integration of European science fostered by the EU.

The latter is at risk as a result of Brexit and comprises three strands: mobility, funding and regulations. Regardless of the availability of local talent, science is always a global enterprise and depends on a free flow of people, who bring in new ideas and expertise. Many of our top native-born scientists have studied or done research in other countries.


Indeed, a major reason for the success of UK science and technology is that it has been open and welcoming to the best talent from around the world. Five of the last 15 UK Nobel Laureates were foreign born, three of the last five Presidents of the Royal Society were born abroad, and a sixth was the son of immigrants.

We are second only to the US as a destination for global talent.

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Their presence ensures that we remain first rate, and importantly, produces an excellent environment for training home-grown talent. Losing EU nationals would be a disaster for the UK economy. We need to take immediate steps to reassure them that they remain welcome. Currently, an EU citizen working in the UK must complete a page form with lots of onerous and unnecessary reporting to gain the right to remain.

In the future, the government should streamline procedures so they are fair, transparent and efficient for everyone. Immigration is a very political issue but the most strident voices may not accurately reflect public opinion. It is worth remembering that immigration was the second most important reason why people voted for Brexit — and it was control over migration that people wanted, not an end to it.

Digital Politics and Government — Oxford Internet Institute

A majority of the British, including leading Brexiteers, are not against movement of highly skilled labour into the country. Thus, the recent rhetoric around migration has been both unhelpful and unnecessary and the Government needs to send a strong message to counter that.

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Reducing the barriers to mobility will enhance our competitiveness and emphasize that the UK will always welcome talent from around the world. Counting students as migrants is both unreasonable and a poor strategy. Only a small fraction of them stay on after their studies mostly to our benefit and they could be counted at that time. The rest return home and are valuable links with the UK.