By Dr Supatra Marsh, BBSRC Policy Fellow at the Society of Biology
The Chancellor George Osborne’s announcements for science in the Autumn Statement this week included investment in science in the North of the country, new student loans for postgraduate Masters degrees, and Britain taking a lead role in Europe’s ExoMars mission.
George Osborne said that the Rosetta comet mission “captured the nation’s imagination” and he was pleased to announce that Britain was awarded the “lead role” in the mission to explore the red plant. The ExoMars programme, established by the European Space Agency, aims to investigate the Martian environment for signs of life as well as demonstrating technologies essential for future missions.
One of the Chancellor’s major priorities was to balance the national economy and build a “northern powerhouse” with a “massive investment in science in the North”. This included a £235 million investment for the Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials that will be based in Manchester and have branches in Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield. Materials research is a growing field that includes the development of graphene: a one atom thick material formed from a honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms with many applications from drug delivery to the tech industry.
Other investments in the North include, £20 million Innovation Hub for Ageing Science in Newcastle, £113 million Cognitive Computing Research Centre in Daresbury, Warrington, and £28 million for a new high value manufacturing catapult centre in Sedgefield. He said “Our ambition is to build a northern powerhouse as a complement to the strength of our capital city, where we bring together our great cities of the North.” Hopefully this we lead to more careers in science across Britain and a competitive scientific community for the future.
The Chancellor reiterated that science is a “personal priority” and that “Scientific advancement is a human endeavour worthy of support in its own right, it is also crucial to our economic future”. By investing in science in the North the hope is that this will help to bring balance to the country’s economy. A very welcome announcement was of £10k student loans available to young people for postgraduate masters. The lack of support for postgraduate students has “deterred bright students from poorer backgrounds”. This is a step in the right direction towards equality in science and ensuring talented students are not lost. He also promises to deliver the best schools, skills, and apprenticeships for young people so the next generation can succeed in a global race.
There will be £5.9 billion sustained investment over the next term of parliament (2015/16-2020/21); £3 billion will be available for world class labs (which includes individual research projects, existing laboratories and international subscriptions), and £2.9 billion for ‘Grand Challenges’ investment which includes the examples above. We hope to hear more on this in the Science and Innovation Strategy but this is a glimpse of a promising future for innovation and science excellence in Britain – let’s hope that the chancellor does not lose sight of his personal priority.
Read the Society of Biology response to the Autumn Statement.