Long-term investment in science imperative to UK economic wellbeing, says RSC

26 July 2010

Reducing Britain's science budget will have a paralysing effect on economic growth, the jobs market and our ability to produce the world-class scientists of the future, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).
The UK risks combining mediocre funding in research with one of the weakest educational systems in schools science in the developed world, says the RSC chief executive Dr Richard Pike.

Short-term investment is important, but it should not be at the expense of long-term funding. Continuous long-term investment in science, engineering and technology must not only be maintained, but steadily increased to meet the challenge of producing the next generation of scientists.

Universities are now the main place where fundamental research is done, so the government's priority must be providing the 2.3bn needed over the next three years to secure the future of chemical science education and research in the UK. This sustained support - of science education, research and training in universities, and partnerships between academia and industry - is vital if we are to rebalance our economy and to keep pace with our international competitors.

Six government-funded bodies are currently advising the government on aspects of the 2010 Science and Research Budget prior to this autumn's Comprehensive Spending Review. The RSC also has advice to government based upon its interactions with key stakeholders in academia and business from across the world. The RSC has evidence, through a report to be issued shortly, that supports the case for sustained, long term basic science research, which will underpin the future UK economy. 

The RSC report, funded in collaboration with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and prepared independently using a methodology recognised by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), will show that chemistry-reliant industries made a 258bn value-added contribution to the UK economy in 2007, equivalent to 21 per cent of UK GDP, and supported 6 million jobs. While it is important to support "short- and medium-term" research gains, it should not be at the expense of long term investment.

Dr Pike said the UK already falls well behind other OECD countries in funding research and development. "We are now 14th on the list of the world's top R&D spenders, as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) - just behind Belgium," he added. "The UK is a top destination for foreign direct investment in Europe, creating jobs and a stronger science base. This position will be damaged by the lack of long-term planning for funding. Maintaining excellence requires sustained long-term capital investment.

"Research funding is not simply a tap you can turn off and then expect the same quality product to emerge when you try and turn it on again. There needs to be a sustained funding stream to plan and implement the fundamental work needed for our prosperity."

Notes for editors

At 1.78 %, the UK lies 14th in the list of top spenders in terms of gross expenditure on R&D. Israel is number one at 4.53 %, Japan fourth at 3.39 % and the USA in eighth place at 2.62 %.

The Economic Benefits of Chemistry Research to the UK (to be published summer 2010), commissioned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), showed the UK's chemistry-reliant industries made a 258bn value added contribution to the UK economy in 2007, equivalent to 21 % of UK GDP and supported 6 million jobs.

The RSC and the Institute of Physics commissioned a report published in June 2010 on the Finances of Chemistry and Physics Departments in UK Universities.

The full list of bodies advising the Director General of Science and Research, Prof Adrian Smith, are:

The Royal Society;
The Royal Academy of Engineering;
The British Academy;
The Council for Science and Technology;
The Chief Scientific Advisers Committee; and
The Confederation for British Industry.

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