RSC responds to Vince Cable keynote speech on science

08 September 2010

The Royal Society of Chemistry supports Vince Cable in his decision to focus on excellent research as it reveals huge financial shortfalls in UK science funding.

Welcoming his first major speech on science and research today, in which the business secretary called for scientists to abandon work that is "neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding" and announced a focus on top class 'blue-skies' scientific research, the RSC supported his approach.

Improving standards at Britain's world-leading universities and maintaining their strong research bases is difficult in an age of austerity, but not impossible. Focused investment rather than 'salami slicing' across the board is the best way to promote excellence. One area which must be addressed though is the continued deficit for teaching chemistry at university, as high as 50 per cent in some parts of the UK, and the fact average funding only covers two-thirds of research activity, as shown by a new RSC report.

Dr Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC, said: "The current financial situation is clearly unsustainable and we must prioritise. The key question is the shape of Higher Education needed: what will this new system look like? We need to prioritise spending on areas where UK research is world class, as it is in many chemistry departments. Mr Cable must consider the whole system of research, innovation and skills, including the education pipeline. The focus on research excellence must be balanced with the need to ensure that all regions of the UK can play a role in the knowledge economy."

Dr Pike urged the government to prioritise investment in research considered vital to the nation's immediate and long-term prosperity. "The government should step carefully when prioritising funding in the months ahead. Unplanned or ill-thought out cuts badly degrade our ability to compete as a global economic force, by reducing the number of people opting to study science and hampering innovation, which is central to our economic recovery. Focusing on high quality research, which underpins key areas of the economy such as the innovative pharmaceutical healthcare sector, will be vital. Business leaders of major technology-based companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Syngenta AG, often cite our strength in research as a major reason for choosing to invest in the UK, making us the top destination in the EU for foreign direct investment. Once lost, this position will be impossible to regain."

Jim Iley, director of science and education at the RSC, said: "Any new system must provide all talented students with access to study chemistry in higher education whatever their region in order to sustain the supply of talent people into science. Any changes to the research landscape must enable the best researchers work closely with each other, across disciplines, to make the UK the best place in the world place to conduct cutting-edge research. It is absolutely vital that universities, research councils and HEFCE work together to ensure that we properly invest in developing a future generation of talented, innovative scientists"

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