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A new briefing on why the new government should champion science and engineering

Why champion science and engineeringIf you are a regular reader of this website I expect you already know and appreciate the incredible contribution science and engineering makes to the UK’s economic prosperity and public wellbeing. But with a new government now up and running and a parliament full of new and returned MPs, there is a new audience to engage with.

So today we have launched a “micro-briefing” to highlight how championing science and engineering can help support a strong economy, create high-value jobs, and help us all live healthier and happier lives.

There are many of great reports and pieces of research out there that together build a strong case, on the grounds of economic and social benefit, for government investment in science and engineering.

For example, we know it helps businesses – the government’s own analysis found that their Innovate UK R&D grants boosted private R&D investment by 30% and CaSE-funded research showed that every £1 of government R&D funding raises business R&D productivity by 20p each year. And it creates high-quality jobs across the country that contribute to the economy – 20% of the UK workforce are employed in a science-related job and on average they earn 20% more so pay more tax. And we know that it keeps us safe – thanks to government-funded research over one million homes were saved through improved flood defences and warning systems in the 2013-14 winter floods compared to those in 2007.

We wanted to bring these all together into one easily-digestible briefing for government ministers and officials, MPs, and peers. We hope it will serve as an introduction to the wealth of evidence out there. And for those wanting to dig into the detail, readers can find a list of references and links to further reading on the back. (I was quite pleased to see in recent survey of MPs that 53% said that this is the format in which they want to receive briefings).

The document sits alongside our booklet of 10 actions to champion science and engineering that we launched ahead of the general election. We’ll be sending both to new ministers and parliamentarians over the coming weeks to welcome them to their new roles, and prompt them to consider how they could use their voice to be a science and engineering champion.

Thank you to the members and friends of CaSE who helped contribute to this briefing, and a special thank you to the Royal Society of Chemistry for paying for its design and print. Please do share it with your networks and if you produce or come across additional reports or evidence not included here, do let us know so that we can continue to strengthen the, already robust, case for public support of science and engineering. With a spending review around the corner – every little helps!

You can download the briefing or you can get in touch if you would like any hard copies.

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The Northern Powerhouse now has a Minister, or two!

2015 General Election - CabinetJames Wharton has been appointed as the Minister responsible for the Northern Powerhouse, the Government’s initiative to strengthen the economy in the North of England.

The role is based in the Department for Communities and Local Government headed by former Science, Universities, and Cities Minister, Greg Clark. Science is at the centre of the Northern Powerhouse strategy, which was devised and championed by George Osborne and much touted ahead of the General Election. It’s therefore surprising to see the initiative sited solely in DCLG, despite considerable policy overlap with BIS responsibilities. However, regional development is a strong policy interest for Greg and he will be familiar with the important role science, engineering and higher education play in local and regional economies from his time as Science Minister.

This is the first ministerial role for James Wharton but one that suits his strong interest in regional development around his constituency in the North East. The appointment might also quell criticisms that the Northern Powerhouse is too Manchester-focussed.

Following his election as MP for Stockton South in 2010, James gave his maiden speech during a debate on the higher skilled economy. He called for the existing North East region skills base to be built upon in order to achieve a stronger economy. However, he has not remarked specifically on the role of science in the economy when speaking in House of Commons debates.

The Conservative’s manifesto said the party would back scientific and technical strengths as part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative by creating new institutions such as the Royce Institute for Advanced Materials in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield, and the National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation in Newcastle. These both received capital investments in the most recent Autumn Statement.

s216_Jim-ONeill-960The economist Jim O’Neill has also just been appointed as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, responsible for driving forward city devolution and the Northern Powerhouse. He has long been an advocate for the concept of combining the strengths of the major Northern cities but might be best known to the science community for his recent Chairmanship of the Antimicrobial Resistance Review. He has also been given a peerage and will sit on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords.

Science and engineering play a critical role in growing the economy and creating well-paid jobs. But how best to make investments to achieve those aims on a regional level is an ongoing and frought question, one that the research community will be working with the Government to address over the coming years (see our response to the Nurse Review for some of our thoughts).

We’ll be contacting James about his new role and look forward to working with him to ensure that science and engineering are able to make a full contribution to the Northern Powerhouse.

You can read more about the other ministerial appointments important to science and engineering in CaSE’s new briefing, click here to download.

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New stats reveal more needs to be done to encourage girls to study physics and maths

The schools regulator Ofsted has just published statistics on pupils progressing onto AS levels and then to A-levels, broken down by gender and subject. This is the first time this has been brought together for England as a whole and follows recommendations by the Institute of Physics (IoP) that schools should monitor their rates and compare them to national averages.

The new numbers show that for every 10 boys taking AS-level physics, there are only three girls, whereas for biology there are 15 girls for every 10 boys. For chemistry it is almost gender-balanced with equal numbers of boys and girls taking the subject at AS-level. Maths, like physics, also has a lower representation of girls, with seven for every 10 boys, and it gets worse for further maths, with only four girls for every 10 boys. The national average for all AS-level subjects, including the sciences, is slightly tipped in favour of girls, with 13 girls taking AS-levels for every 10 boys.

AS-level gender proportionsThe findings replicate the IoP’s own research that found very poor uptake of physics among girls, especially in co-educational state schools.

The Ofsted numbers reveal fewer girls go on to study physics at A-level as well. 57% of girls continue to the higher level compared to 71% of boys. The follow-on rate for other sciences is roughly equal for girls and boys, but maths sees fewer girls continue with their studies: 70% of girls continue compared to 79% of boys.

A-level progressionI should also point out that there are pretty big gender imbalances in non-STEM subjects too: there are three girls for every boy studying sociology and five girls for every two boys studying English. The IoP published a report in 2013 that found that schools with a gender imbalance in physics tend to have imbalances in other subjects too, suggesting that it is the environment, rather than unavoidable inherant preferences among pupils, affecting subject choice.

CaSE published a report last year on diversity in STEM, which amongst other things looked at gender imbalances in school subjects and discussed how teachers and parents can (often unwittingly) influence pupils choices in a negative way. It’s great that Ofsted are now publishing national statistics on gender balance and we hope that schools and Ofsted will do everything they can to ensure children do not feel deterred from studying whatever subjects they want at AS and A-level.

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The next crop of MPs must be more statistically literate than the last

In 2012, MPs elected for the current parliamentary term were asked a simple question about the probability of flipping a coin and getting two heads in a row. The correct answer, as I’m sure you know, is 25%.

Not everybody needs to be a maths whiz, and not everybody has an interest in statistics and probabilities. But when it comes to the women and men elected to run the country, who make decisions on billion pound budgets and hold government to account, it is surely reasonable to expect they have a basic grasp of the numbers. Read More »

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Latest ONS figures bring good and bad news for government investment in R&D

CaSE’s analysis shows the proportion of government spending invested in UK R&D has been decreasing since 2003, putting us below international averages and competitor nations. In 2003 1.37% of total government spending went on R&D. In 2013 this figure had dropped to 1.18%, or £8.4 billion.

We’ve analysed new figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD). The stats show that GERD rose 5% in real-terms in 2013, reaching an all-time high of £28.9 billion. However, this equals 1.67% of GDP, a slight increase from 2012 but still below the European average of 2% and far lower than in the past. The government’s contribution to the UK’s total R&D spend was 0.49% of GDP. Read More »

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Prevent, transform, cure – putting people with arthritis at the heart of the election

There are around ten million people living in the UK with a musculoskeletal condition, of which there are many variations, ranging from the most common, osteoarthritis, to less prevalent conditions such as lupus.

What unites all of these conditions is the pain that they can cause and the impact that they can have on the people that have them, making it harder for them to do the things that so many of us take for granted- going to work, meeting friends, spending time with family. Read More »

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Evidence Matters

Using reliable evidence honestly and effectively is crucial to making policy in the public interest – while its misuse means that opportunities for improving social outcomes are missed.

With the general election less than three months away, politicians and the media will bombard us with claim and counter-claim about the best ways to reduce crime, educate our children and care for the vulnerable – but how can the electorate know what to believe? Ask for Evidence is a new tool developed by Sense About Science for the public to hold politicians, commentators and others to account for how they use evidence – helping to sort policy claims that are backed by evidence from those that aren’t. Read More »

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Building a Stronger Future – National Academies

This Spring will see UK citizens go to the polls and exercise their right to choose who governs the country. The last election saw the formation of the first coalition government since the Second World War, and we do not yet know what 2015 will bring. These are uncertain times. Read More »

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Returners to Bioscience

The UK is facing a skills shortage. Everyone is saying it – from David Cameron to Paul Nurse – but what can we do about it? One potential source of talent lies within the so-called ‘returners’ community; those who have taken extended career breaks but often face difficulties in trying to return to work. Read More »

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The looming skills deficit

Nearly 60 per cent of employers are concerned they will be unable to recruit the engineering skills and talent their business needs, according to our new skills survey. But, it is not only engineering employers who should be worried about the looming skills crisis. So serious is the scale of the problem that, if it continues, the UK’s future economic prosperity could be at risk. Read More »

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Concerning the Scottish curriculum

The Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee is reviewing progress on the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the transformative programme for 3 to 18 education in Scotland. Because the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) Education Committee works to identify and promote priorities for education in Scotland at all levels, it has been involved in monitoring and responding to CfE. Read More »

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CaSE 2014 Annual Lecture – A Journey to Mars

By Nancy Williams, CaSE Intern

On Friday night Dr Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Scientist, gave the Campaign for Science and Engineering’s 24th Annual Distinguished Lecture.

In front of a packed IMAX theatre at the Science Museum, Ellen took us through some of the extraordinary advances in science, technology and engineering resulting from exploration of space, and the challenges even now being worked on by scientists across the world driven by NASA’s journey to Mars. Read More »

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Charities at the heart of UK medical research

Medical research charities exist to support research that will help us to understand the condition or develop treatments to help people affected.

This support is not insignificant. AMRC member charities fund over a third of publicly funded research in the UK, spending £1.3bn in 2013. This is in large part down to the generosity of the UK public who make medical research their most popular charitable cause.


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World-class skills for world-class engineering

They may have different views on how to achieve it, but all three main political parties agree that developing world-class infrastructure in the UK is vital in enabling both job creation and economic prosperity.

With that however, comes a challenge. If we want world class infrastructure, we need a world class workforce to deliver it. The numbers speak for themselves – the UK will need around 87,000 engineers, per year, over the next ten years to meet current demand.

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The Data Manifesto: Improving data for policy making, democracy and prosperity

CASE has recently launched important briefings in the run up to the next election including a call for a 10-year plan for government spending on research and development that exceeds growth and aims to reach current investment levels in Germany and the United States. The Financial Times in a recent editorial has also indicated that it would be preferable to invest in the UK’s science base than to have tax cuts, if there is any cash to spare in the next Parliament.

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Revitalising primary science

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Diversity in STEM and the Women In Space resource

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What will the referendum mean for science and engineering?

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Research funding and the Scottish referendum

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Making the case for skills

Lord Baker calls it ‘The Skills Mismatch’, Lord Adonis ‘The Fractured Economy’ and now The Prince’s Trust has coined ‘The Skills Crunch’, but whichever snappy name grabs your attention they all boil down to the same thing: Britain is struggling to align its education system with the skill needs of the economy. Read More »

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