Building a Britain fit for the future
Our chief executive, Dr Robert Parker analyses the Government’s Industrial Strategy, which aims to position the UK at the forefront of global enterprise, bringing opportunities across the country.
Last week, the Budget confirmed the government’s ambition to increase combined public and private spending on research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, so we are pleased to see the Industrial Strategy commits to a roadmap setting out how to achieve this target.
We also welcome the Government’s recognition that STEM education and skills will be critical in delivering innovation, jobs and prosperity nationally.
Earlier this year we submitted a response to the Industrial Strategy White Paper, calling for “a high quality, simplified vocational education system that is valued by employers and learners alike”.
Building on strong foundations
We are particularly pleased to see the commitment to establishing a world-class technical education system and we will work to support the development of this system through our initiatives with employers, and with our members on apprenticeships, professional registers and careers.
The Government has committed to reviewing tertiary education funding. We urge them to ensure that investment grows across both technical and higher education strands, to achieve their vision of world-class technical education and to keep our universities at the frontiers of global excellence, both in research and education.
There is an opportunity in higher education to build on strong foundations, as universities are already evolving, both to meet the technical and transferrable skills needs of 21st century employers and to connect with businesses to deliver impact from research.
We also welcome the additional funding to support the professional development of teachers in schools and Further Education colleges around the country. We ask the Government to ensure that all STEM teachers, including chemistry teachers, will have an opportunity to access these opportunities.
Last year, in our comprehensive survey of UK chemistry departments, we counted thousands of examples of diverse, innovative connections between universities and companies all around the country, from major research partnerships to deep engagement between local companies and universities on curriculum, teaching and mentoring.
So we embrace the commitment in the Industrial Strategy to increase the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s HE Innovation Fund, which supports collaborative innovation between universities and business.
We also welcome the recognition of the kind of international collaboration and mobility that is essential for UK science to remain at the forefront of research globally. Crucially, the detail of what that means in practice will be in next year’s international research and innovation strategy.
In light of the UK’s exit from the EU, now – more than ever – we must encourage connections and collaborations on all levels, from the personal to the industrial, from universities to governments.
Grand challenges and sector deals
The Government has announced support for four grand challenge areas that will improve the lives of people in the UK and will position the country to as a key player globally, as new technologies create new market opportunities. The four areas identified in the £725m second wave of money from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund are: Artificial Intelligence; Future of Mobility; Ageing Society and Clean Growth.
Chemistry researchers are already pushing the frontiers in delivering solutions to these grand challenges – from developing better diagnostics and precision medicine to harnessing renewable energy sources and increasing agricultural productivity.
We must remember that these advances came from discoveries in fundamental physical sciences. So investment in challenge-based research must come hand-in-hand with investment in fundamental, curiosity-driven research to guarantee a pipeline of ideas for tomorrow’s innovations.
There is now an opportunity to think about the next wave of challenge funding streams in a long-term, proactive way. I am pleased to see the “sector deals” supporting business areas that are already strong in the UK – including yesterday’s announcement of the investment by pharma giants MSD in the UK Life Sciences Sector where chemistry is central.
As a next step, thinking about investments in the long-term, we have an opportunity to support cross-cutting science and technology developments in the physical sciences that will underpin innovation and technology breakthroughs across sectors, creating new economic opportunities.
Some of the areas that are strong contenders for future Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund investment build on UK strengths – areas like advanced materials, synthetic biology and measurement science.
Chemistry and chemists, working in partnership with colleagues across the disciplines in science and engineering – and across nations – will be key to delivering success for the UK economy and our global society.
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