Election debate should address science funding, write society presidents


29 April 2010

This letter, signed by the Presidents of six Learned Societies in the UK including the RSC, was published in the Daily Telegraph today.

Sir,

On behalf of a large number of professional scientists and engineers, we write with the intention of ensuring that the level and the nature of future funding of science and technology in the UK is addressed in the final debates of the 2010 election campaign.

In respect of the manufacturing and production of a whole range of products, the UK cannot compete with countries such as China and India, given their low labour costs and economies of scale. Therefore, future developments in these important sectors of the UK economy will require the acquisition of new knowledge and the development of new technology. 

Also, the rapid increase in the world's population and the desire of all peoples to enjoy an increased standard of living require new scientific knowledge and technology, if energy, food, water, health products and consumer goods are to be produced at the desired level and in an environmentally sustainable manner. 

Many countries, notably the USA, Germany and France, have recognised this situation and, in consequence, have made significant investments to stimulate the development of science and technology. For example, the USA spends over 2.6% of its GDP on research and development whereas the UK spends only 1.7% and, in February 2010, President Obama requested a 6% increase in the Federal science budget. Therefore, to remain internationally competitive, the UK must commit significant resource to maintain a research and development community that is adept, not only in the creative appliance of science, but also in the 'blue-skies' research that is essential if major advances in knowledge are to be achieved. 

We urge individuals and groups to question parliamentary candidates in both local and national debates, and via the web, on their commitment to science and technology. Also, it is essential that the three major political parties make their positions on this matter clear to the public. So far, this topic has not featured in the debates between the leaders of the three main political parties; Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg must spell out their views on this vital issue in the final TV debate on Thursday. If they do not, and the UK fails to secure a suitable level of investment in science and technology in the future, the international status of the UK will deteriorate and the peoples of these islands will experience a significant loss of prosperity.

Yours sincerely

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, DBE, FInstP, FRAS, FRS
President, The Institute of Physics
Department of Astronomy, Oxford University

Lord Browne FREng, FRS
President, The Royal Academy of Engineering

Professor Dave Garner, CChem, FRSC, FRS
President, The Royal Society of Chemistry
School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham

Professor Lord Martin Rees, FRS
President, The Royal Society

Dame Nancy Rothwell, DBE, DSc, FMedSci, FRS
President, The Society of Biology
Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester

Mr. Ian Shott CBE, FIChemE, FREng
President, The Institution of Chemical Engineers

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