The report warned that Britain’s current advantage is in danger of being wiped out by the US, China, India, France and Germany who have increased spending in science to help boost their economies. For instance, the German government has said it will increase their budget for education and research by 12bn Euros by 2013.
Sir Martin Taylor, chair of the report’s advisory group stated: “As France announces a new €35bn investment in the knowledge economy, the UK cuts university budgets by £600m, with the threat of more to come.
“The UK has been in the top two of the scientific premier league for the last 350 years. It would seem obvious that politicians would recognise the need to invest in this competitive advantage rather than cutting funds.”
Lord Waldegrave, former Science Minister and provost of Eton College said: “Times are tough but this is exactly when you need to invest in the future and focus spending where you already have an advantage.
“Investment in science cannot be turned on and off on a political whim – we must have a long-term investment. If we cut science now, just as the benefits of nearly twenty years of consistent policy are really beginning to bear fruit, we will seriously damage our economic prospects.”
The report praises the fact that patents granted to UK universities have increase by 136% between 2000 and 2008, and that university spin outs employed 14,000 people in 2007/2008 with a turnover of £1.1bn. However, it seems that research and development is a weakness for the UK – in 2007 British companies spent 1.14% of GDP on R&D while in the US spent 1.9% and Germany 1.8%.
Experts in the field recommend the following to help remedy the situation:
- Creating a 15 year framework for science and innovation with increased spending.
- Prioritising investment in scientific skills and infrastructure, such as laboratories and equipment.
- Better aligning science and innovation with global challenges.
- Revitalising science and mathematics education.
- And expanding the R&D tax credit.
Lord Sainsbury, the former science minister and member of the advisory group said: “We cannot compete with countries such as China and India on the basis of low wages, and science and innovation must, therefore, be the basis of the strategy for growth which we need to have as we go into a tough period of fiscal consolidation.”