Op-Ed: Where next for science in Tory Britain?

Posted Jun 13, 2015 by Tim Sandle
The dust has settled after the U.K. general election and the Conservative Party, following its narrow victory, is beginning to unveil a raft of policies. What do these mean for science and technology?
Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister's Office
The direction that science and technology innovation is likely to take under Cameron’s Conservative government is uncertain. Under the previous government, which was a coalition between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, a ten-year plan was drawn up for investment in science. This agreement is now null and void, although no minister has yet dismissed the content out-of-hand.
The science and policy committee has recently been formed, with the Earl of Selborne, a Conservative peer appointed as its chairman. It is too early to gauge what types of policies will reach the top of the committee’s agenda.
There has been a signal that the government seeks to encourage research and development; however, no spending commitments have been made and many scientists fear that this area will be subject to cutbacks.
This is one recurrent question that every government faces from scientists and professional bodies - what is in store for science funding? Given the supply-side economic policies of the government, many areas are facing restrictions or cuts to spending. Science is no exception. In an attempt to counter this and to make a case for scientific spending actually fueling economic growth through future new product development, The Royal Society has put forward a policy paper. The Royal Society is one the world’s oldest and most respected scientific bodies. However, whether its demand-side economic argument cuts any ice remains to be seen.
One area where cuts have been announced is with higher education. This means that university research will be hit. This is a short-sighted measure, since many important scientific advancements come from universities. One prime example is with graphene, the new wonder material, which was developed at the University of Manchester. In addition, most of the development into new antibiotics is coming from the university sector.
For the U.K. to maintain a key place in the world and to continue to have a strong economy, then scientific research is a must. In order to drive a innovative economy forwards, governments need to spark the flame that will burn strongly through this process. At present, the Conservative government shows little sign of doing so.