Recent highlights

These posts are some of the recent highlights from the CaSE blog. To see all of our recent news and commentary, please see our full blog.

Why champion science and engineering? asks Andrew Miller

If you are a new Member of Parliament you will already have discovered that life in the House is not quite what you imagined. You will be trying to cope with a mountain of casework whilst not having had the time to appoint staff, sorting out domestic and office accommodation on an inadequate budget, meeting all the commitments made during the election and not least, trying to find out how the arcane rules of the House actually work! These are just a few of the challenges you are facing so what am I doing trying to get you to do something else? Read More »

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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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Is science in good hands?

Many hours of coalition ‘what ifs’ lie redundant and, rather than drawing up a coalition agreement, the new Government are getting back to business. Ministers are this week getting to grips with new briefs or, for many, heading back to their departments to pick up where they left off. And of course this has all happened rather sooner than any of us, and they, expected.

BIS is still the department housing the Science Minister but departments from Education to Treasury impact on the health of science and engineering. So we’ve taken a look at some of the actions key returning and new Ministers could take to strengthen science and engineering across education, investment, and use of scientific expertise in policy making. Read the full briefing here. Read More »

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CaSE welcomes Jo Johnson as new Universities and Science Minister

28659_jo-johnson-mp-for-orpington-meets-with-friends-of-orpington-hospitalJo Johnson MP has been appointed Universities and Science Minister at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. He was previously a minister in the Cabinet Office.

Commenting on the appointment, CaSE Acting Director, Naomi Weir said:

“There is enormous opportunity for science and engineering to drive economic prosperity and public wellbeing. In his new role, Jo Johnson is in a strong position to ensure science and engineering is a central feature of the Government’s long-term economic plan. I look forward to working with him to ensure the UK has the people, the funding and the policies for science and engineering to thrive.” Read More »

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CaSE responds to the General Election 2015 result

Responding to the formation of a Conservative majority government, CaSE Acting Director, Naomi Weir, said:

“Science and engineering is a national success story to which every part of the UK contributes and benefits. As part of the Coalition, the Conservatives provided relative protection for science and engineering, recognising the benefits it brings to the economy and society. It’s vital for Britain’s future that they continue putting science and engineering at the core of their long-term economic plan.”

Read More »

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Recent Round-Up

latest-e-bulletinCaSE has published its May 2015 e-bulletin, giving a summary of all CaSE’s activities and news over the last month. These include:

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CaSE welcomes Canterbury Christ Church University as members

Rama2Canterbury Christ Church is a modern university actively involved in public life, from its role in influencing national policy and practice – particularly in the areas of Education and Health – to addressing real-world complexities through its teaching and research. Its wealth of national and international partnerships highlight the University’s relevance to contemporary society and the critical role it plays in transforming the social, economic and cultural prosperity of communities and individual lives. Read More »

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CaSE welcomes University of Bath as members

Prof Dame Glynis BreakwellThe University of Bath is an international centre for research and teaching excellence, achieving global impact through their alumni, research and strategic partnerships. It offers students a vibrant community characterised by its culture of high achievement, enterprise and creativity. Read More »

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CaSE welcomes City University as members

Prof-Paul-Curran-headshotCity University London is a leading international university dedicated to academic excellence as well as focused on business and the professions.

Professor Curran, Vice-Chancellor says of their decision to join CaSE:

“City University London is pleased to support CaSE in its efforts to raise the profile of science and engineering and, in particular, the need to maintain investment in education and research.  This is timely given the impending General Election and the parties’ relative commitments to science and engineering.”

Read More »

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Recent Round-Up

latest-e-bulletinCaSE has published its April 2015 e-bulletin, giving a summary of all CaSE’s activities and news over the last month. These include:

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What the Party Leaders have to say on science and engineering

Party LettersThe political parties have today set out how they would support science and engineering if they are put into power in the General Election on May 7th.

The commitments are set out in letters to CaSE, which wrote to the leader of every political party with at least one MP in Westminster, sending them our election briefings and asking them how they will support science and engineering in the next Parliament. Read More »

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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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CaSE analysis of parties’ commitments for science and engineering

CaSE has today published its analysis of the science and engineering policies of all the main political parties. Bringing together manifestos, speeches, letters from the party leaders, and blogs by parliamentary candidates, the analysis provides the most comprehensive view yet of what each party thinks about science and engineering. 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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CaSE responds to 2015 Budget

In today’s budget the Chancellor stated that “future economic success depends on future scientific success”.

A successful long-term economic plan must therefore have a long-term plan for science at its core. He said the government was “choosing the future…choosing jobs… choosing the whole nation”. To do that the Chancellor, and the next government, must choose to increase investment in science and engineering over the long-term. Read More »

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CaSE 2015 Budget Briefing

New CaSE analysis shows that the UK research base has lost over £1 billion of investment over the course of this Parliament due to the government’s flat-cash ringfence policy.

It also reveals that if current government policy is maintained, overall funding for research will continue to be eroded by inflation despite recent capital spending commitments, with the overall shortfall reaching £2.3 billion by 2020.

CaSE has analysed investment since 2010 in the UK research base, composed of the resource ‘Science Budget’ and capital budget, over the term of this Parliament, comparing it to what would have been spent if 2010 budgets had been maintained in line with inflation. The analysis looks at overall research base investment and how the resource and capital budgets have individually affected investment in science and engineering. It also looks at planned investment in the next Parliament (2015/16 to 2019/20). Read More »

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Recent Round-Up

CaSE has published its March 2015 e-bulletin, giving a summary of all CaSE’s activities and news over the last month. These include:

  • Ahead of the Election, CaSE has been inviting Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to write for CaSE on why science and engineering is important to the UK and how they would support this as a Member of Parliament. So far we’ve received over 100 responses from candidates and we’ll be publishing their comments regularly in the run-up to May 7th. Read More »
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