It’s been a busy week for science policy in Wales. It started on Monday with the launch of ‘Science for Wales – A strategic agenda for science and innovation in Wales’. The strategy pulls no punches, calling for a ‘sustained and committed effort by many more of our academics’ in securing a larger share of UK Research Council funding and increasing levels of collaboration.
Specific goals include:
- Increase the Welsh share of UK Research Council funding from 3.3% in 2009/10 to 5%.
- For the proportion of research achieving 3* and 4* quality and impact levels in Wales’ universities to reach the highest UK level in the new Research Excellence Framework
In March this year, the Learned Society of Wales issued a paper on the funding of the universities in Wales. The paper showed that:
- although it is the Welsh Government’s devolved duty to nourish the infrastructure of Wales’s universities so that they are fit for purpose based on internationally excellent staff and state of the art equipment, libraries and buildings, it had been WAG policy over the previous decade to underfund Welsh universities compared with those in England and Scotland;
- the cumulative finding gap between Wales and England over the ten years 2000 to 2009 – a decade of abundant spending in other Welsh public sectors – was more than £360 million; that between Wales and Scotland was more than £1 billion;
- the impact of this decade of underfunding had been exacerbated by recent Welsh Government decisions, including the further reduction of the higher education budget for 2011/12 and its policy on tuition fees. Read More
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Eight out of ten Welsh universities have had their plans to charge tuition fees at the full rate of £9,000 in 2012/13. In England, more than a third of universities will be charging all of their fees at the full rate and nearly six-tenths will charge some fees at that rate.
The Welsh Government has committed to providing students who are ordinarily resident in Wales (as well as European Union students in Wales) a non-repayable tuition fee grant covering the cost of any fees that they are charged above £3,465, no matter where in the UK they study. So Welsh (and EU) students will not themselves have to pay the full £9,000.
2011 marks the 7th year of Science and the Assembly, an annual forum which provides Welsh National Assembly Members the opportunity to meet scientists from across the UK to discuss topical issues. Sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry and co-sponsored by CaSE, the meeting was held in the historical Pierhead building overlooking a sun-drenched and therefore particularly picturesque Cardiff Bay.
The meeting boasted an impressive line-up of speakers, covering a range of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) issues from nanotechnology to GM crops and climate change. Of particular topical interest was Dr Tom Crick’s presentation on digital literacy in Wales. He stressed an educational imperative to equip future generations with not only the technical skills but the “computational thinking” skills as well that they need to function in today’s digital age. Also noteworthy was Professor Ian Weeks’ presentation on translational research. He encouraged university researchers to adopt a more “commercial” way of thinking about their projects in order to facilitate an environment in which the scientific research of today can be quickly and efficiently translated into the novel applications and technologies of tomorrow. Read More
How do the different nations of the UK fair against each other when it comes to funding science and engineering?
CaSE has written to all the incoming politicians from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland about the importance of science and engineering. We’re sending them our report, Science, Engineering and the Devolved Nations.
That report includes a compelling visualisation, shown below, of different sorts of research or STEM funding (grouped as direct devolved/Westminster spending, and competitive funding from public and private sources), shown by share of UK total for each Nation, and compared to a baseline share of UK population. We struggled to find comparable data for some of these statistics, there’s more information on sources in our background document.
In the run-up to the devolved elections on May 5th, CaSE has produced a policy report – Science, Engineering & the Devolved Nations 2011. It makes a series of recommendations for political parties campaigning for office and for the incoming assemblies and governments.
CaSE has also produced recommendations targeted for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The underlying rationale for this work can be found in the more detailed devolved working paper.
The public in the devolved nations are increasingly interested in science and engineering. By the time people cast their votes, they need to know how each party would respond to the challenges facing science and engineering.
CaSE has written to the leaders of the political parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland asking them to set out their policies for science and engineering in advance of the devolved elections. We are publishing their responses below, as we receive them.
1. [What commitments will your party make to ensure that science and engineering advice is at the heart of evidence-based policy making within government? What are your plans for setting out a long-term strategy for science and engineering in Wales? Will you commit to appointing a dedicated Science Minister, and recommit to a Chief Scientific Advisor?]
Welsh Conservatives highly value science and engineering. We are committed to improving STEM subject teaching through our Teach Wales programme, and value thorough consultation with industry sectors when making important policy decisions that could impact science and engineering sectors.
Welsh Labour is clear about the importance of science and engineering in our lives and to our ambitions for the future of Wales, and we have demonstrated this through our policies in government.
One of my first actions on becoming First Minister was to appoint Lesley Griffiths as a Deputy Minister with specific responsibility for science.
We have subsequently taken a number of positive steps to promote science and engineering, which Welsh Labour are committed to building on in the next Assembly term.
Universities in Wales are under scrutiny as never before. Leighton Andrews, the Minister of Education within the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has declared that universities must ‘adapt or die’. The yardstick against which such adaptation is to be measured is the WAG ‘For our Future’ document which sets out specific actions which WAG wishes universities in Wales to take.
Strong impetus for this agenda has been provided by the McCormick report published in March 2011 which gave special attention to the University of Wales – now a shadow of its former self following the withdrawal of the pre-1992 universities from the previous federal university.
One of the main challenges facing Wales, and indeed the constituency I am standing in the Welsh elections, Bridgend, is improving the business infrastructure to help businesses flourish and grow.
With this in mind, I was slightly disappointed that the UK Government has announced that the electrification of the Swansea to Paddington line will end at Cardiff, missing out Bridgend completely. The people of Bridgend will miss out on quicker, cleaner and quieter transport, while local businesses will also lose out.
On Tuesday 22nd March the Royal Society of Chemistry organised and hosted the first ever Welsh Science Question Time at the National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff Bay.
This gathering of key representatives of Welsh science took place at a time when Devolution in Wales has taken a decisive step forward. The outcome of the recent Referendum means that the fourth National Assembly will operate with wider powers and with a greater degree of autonomy than before. The next Assembly will also have the largest turnover of new members since its establishment in 1999.
Plaid believes science and engineering holds a key role in our economic recovery. The development of the prosperity and economy of Wales will rely heavily on our science and engineering capabilities.
Developing a talented base of scientists and engineers will not only make Wales a world player in research and development. It will also make Wales a greener nation with the development of green technologies, it will save money by lessening our dependence on imported materials, it will generate revenue by exporting our goods and perhaps most importantly, it will create jobs throughout Wales, thus lowering unemployment levels and in turn lowering dependence on the state for benefits and allowances.
All parties running for election should clearly articulate their intentions for science and engineering so that voters can make informed decisions about these critical areas for their future wellbeing and prosperity. This summary provides some core recommendations for all the parties – the rationale and analyses behind them are detailed in the accompanying background paper. You can also view this document as a pdf.
A medical laser device for the permanent removal of body hair has found new life as a home-based cosmetic treatment that is one of the best-selling products in Boots. The device was invented in Swansea and manufactured at the Sony site in Pencoed, Bridgend.
This is an example of a successful collaboration model involving the private sector working with the Higher Education sector, resulting in the production of patents and marketing new products. The Swansea University Institute of Life Sciences have attracted over £113 million of investment, much of that from the private sector. The medical laser device was developed from research using a super computer installed by IBM. It is fantastic to see commercial applications resulting from this investment.
The Enterprise and Learning Committee’s report on The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Agenda was published on 28 January 2011 on a wave of criticism about education standards in schools.
We highlighted a catalogue of issues – spanning the entire learning pathway – that we believe need concerted action in order to develop the STEM agenda in Wales.
In December 2010, the Welsh Assembly Government outlined a framework for Delivering a Digital Wales, a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. The WAG Economic Renewal Programme further reinforced the importance of ICT/Digital Economy as one of the six priority sectors for economic renewal.
Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills, Lesley Griffiths said at the Digital Wales launch:
“The growth of our economy and the well-being of our citizens are now inexorably linked to advances in technology. We must be prepared to respond quickly to new opportunities and challenges that rapid technological change will continue to bring”
In a paper issued on 1 March 2011, the Council of The Learned Society of Wales, whose Fellows include some of the most prominent figures within their respective academic disciplines, commented on the damaging effects of the policy of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) on university funding in Wales.
It has been WAG policy over the past decade to underfund Welsh universities compared with those in England and Scotland. The cumulative finding gap between Wales and England over the ten years 2000 to 2009 – a decade of abundant spending in other Welsh public sectors – was more than £360 million; that between Wales and Scotland was more than £1 billion.