Liam Byrne MP is Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, as well as Labour MP for Birmingham and Hodge Hill. Below, he shares his vision for science and research in the UK.
This post forms part of a series highlighting the main political parties’ perspectives on science and research. Previously, we’ve heard from David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, and Conservative MP for Havant.
Scientific research is a public good. The more we know about science, the more we can help patients. Advances in scientific research, particularly in the fields of medicine and pharmaceuticals, have already transformed our quality of life and addressed some of the health challenges we face, such as cancer.
But we need to do more. That’s why a long-term, public and privately funded research and development (R&D) strategy is vital.
Scientific investment is a long game. Areas of research that address major social challenges such as public health and medicine do not enjoy immediate payback, but the long-term rewards have great social benefit.
Investing in science and innovation also means a stronger and fairer economic future. To make this a reality, the next government must have a long-term vision for science and a robust plan to grow British talent in science skills.
Focus on funding
Many of the world’s largest economies are increasing their investments in science whilst the opposite is happening here. Compared to thirty years ago, the UK has cut spending on higher education and research, whilst other countries like France and Germany are increasing theirs.
Our international competitors are leading the way with targeted research that brings together public and private support for long-term social challenges without picking winners or compromising research independence.
For example, the European Commission’s long-term research programme, Horizon 2020, places its three pillars, ‘industrial leadership’, ‘societal challenges’ and ‘excellent science’ on an equal footing.
When it comes to science skills we are currently not doing enough as a country to invest in the next generation of scientist and researchers who will deliver the health gains we need.
For example, the way in which science is taught has a major influence on the number of young people who persevere with science and technology subjects. It is also vital that science has a prominent role in the school curriculum so that students are equipped with the basic skills and the inspiration to pursue further study and careers in scientific subjects.
The prize is not just a larger economy or high-skilled, high-pay jobs, although all these things are important.
The prize must also be the research results we need to save lives.
- Liam Byrne MP