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Lib Dem MP Dr Julian Huppert

Dr Julian Huppert is a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Cambridge and a former research scientist. 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 the Conservatives’ David Willetts MP, and from Labour’s Liam Byrne MP.

What would a strong science, innovation and research environment mean to the man on the street in the UK?      

When I think about the impact innovation, research and science can have on people, I’m reminded of something Dr Benjamin Franklin once said:  ‘Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.’ Although research can seem technical and remote from our everyday lives, its end result sets the tone of how we live.

Building a strong science, innovation and research community now means people in future will have a better chance of living healthier, longer lives. And that’s something we can all sign up to.

How important is government spending on medical and clinical research in particular?

Government support is crucial for three reasons:

First, the more we invest the more research we can do – and the more chance we have of developing treatments that will really make a difference for patients.

Second, there is clear evidence that when government invests in research and development, it sets a good example – creating the confidence for other investors to put money on the table too.

And third, we now know that investing in research helps the UK economy as a whole, with some 40p from every pound spent on cancer-related research alone being poured back into the UK pot in each subsequent year.

Put simply – investing now means a brighter future.

Your vision for science, innovation and research: what are the top highlights?

The UK is where penicillin was developed and the structure of DNA discovered. I look to a future in which the UK has cemented and strengthened this proud heritage. But we’ll need to up our game to make this happen. Investment, mentioned above, is crucial for making UK science flourish.

But it’s not enough. It’s just as important that we make sure we have the right people – people with skills, passion and talent, both home-grown and from abroad.

So we must make sure that those with potential – especially people from underrepresented groups like women, or students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds – are supported at all levels of the UK education system.

But we also need to be attracting talented students from other countries to the UK to both study and work. By cultivating both these groups, we’re making sure the research pool of tomorrow is an exciting, potential-rich goldmine of expertise.

What role does the UK have to play in fostering an integrated global research hub?

Research is all about collaboration. The UK is already renowned for punching above its weight:  making up less than one per cent of the global population,  it accounts for 3 per cent of R&D expenditure, 4 per cent of researchers, 6 per cent of research articles, 10 per cent of research article downloads and 16 per cent of the world’s most highly-cited articles.

Our unique scientific community and infrastructure is something we can be really proud of, of course: on cancer, UK research has led to significant progress, furthering our understanding of the disease and how to treat it.  Yet what’s really crucial is to make sure that our researchers collaborate as effectively as they can with their peers around the world.

By identifying and working with international partners, we can make sure the UK stays at the forefront of global research.

Five years from now, what would you hope the UK’s science, research and innovation environment to look like?

I’d like to see it become even more vibrant and successful. I hope the other parties will back our call for a sustained increase in a ring-fenced science and research budget, together with more sensible immigration rules, so that we can attract and retain the best and the brightest from around the world to work here, contributing to our economy, and helping to treat patients here and overseas.

Check out the new Cancer Research UK Cross Cancer Out campaign, urging all candidates from all political parties to commit to making our NHS cancer services the best in the world ahead of the 2015 General Election.

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