With just under two weeks until votes are cast in the General Election, President of the Royal Society Adrian Smith PRS, reflects on the parties’ positions on science and priorities for the next government.

Adrian Smith

Despite being central to the solutions to many of the big challenges we face, from low productivity and challenged public services through to climate change, science often barely gets a look-in during an election campaign. So, it was welcome to see science and the value it brings to our economy and society recognised in the parties’ manifestos.

Last week, we had the opportunity to question the parties further on how they would support science, innovation and technology, if they were elected, at a hustings hosted by the Royal Society in partnership with the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy, the Foundation for Science and Technology and the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

In our Manifesto for Science (PDF), we were clear that a new government must give an unambiguous commitment to sustained, long term public investment in scientific research. We were pleased to see these asks reflected in the parties’ manifestos. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have committed to increase the levels of public investment in research and development, with the Lib Dems pledging to spend 3.5% of GDP on R&D by 2034 - reflecting our call to drive the G7 in R&D intensity.

Labour has restated its pledge for ten year budgets for key R&D institutions, an important signal of long term commitment, which would help to unlock growth and provide the certainty to attract researchers and private investors. Both Labour and the Conservatives have also pledged to support university spinouts, ensure start-ups have access to finance and funding for catapults.

A new government must be ambitious for science and commit to long term, sustained real terms public investment across our research system.

By investing in research, from university labs to routes to market, we can lead the way as a nation in turning early-stage discovery science into companies and products that can transform lives.

But if we want the UK to be home to the next generation of cutting-edge scientific discovery, innovation and technology, then we also need greater international collaboration. The next government should develop an international science strategy and remove barriers to bringing global scientific talent to the UK - including expensive upfront visa costs for international scientists. The UK already has visa costs up to 17 times higher than our international counterparts. This is damaging the UK’s competitiveness.

Slowing climate change and protecting our natural environment require urgent global action and must transcend party politics. Current commitments to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement put us on a path to levels of warming above 2.9⁰C.

The parties have pledged to significantly increase renewable energy production, with investment in green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. These cannot be empty promises and must be backed by an evidence-based technology roadmap on how to get there, led by the latest science. If we are to slow warming to 1.5 or 2⁰C, we need to act immediately and decisively. As the national academy for science, we stand ready to support the next government to accelerate decarbonisation of the economy, unlock green growth and hit our net zero targets.

For the UK to tackle big issues like climate change, we need to nurture the next generation of homegrown scientists and innovators. This starts with education.

In a data driven world, the UK cannot hope to compete economically when two thirds of all students in England give up maths at the age of 16 (if we don’t include those retaking GCSEs). All three parties have committed to some form of review of the school curriculum. This is welcome but the next government must not tinker around the edges. We need fundamental reform and a broader, more balanced education system, that includes some maths - but not simply A-level - for all to 18.

We also urgently need more STEM teachers. Commitments to recruit more teachers must be followed through with a clear plan and must also prioritise retention. We must value our teachers - increasing their agency and supporting regular training in their specialist subject. Meaningful change will require cross-party consensus to deliver the long term, large scale reform needed.

The next Parliament will be a pivotal time for science. Global warming is at a tipping point, we are on the cusp of a green energy revolution, AI will transform the way we work and live in ways that cannot be predicted and pressures on the NHS and social care continue to grow. The next government must take long-term decisions and be ambitious for science. Only by doing so will we unlock the solutions and innovations of the future, that will save lives and protect our planet for generations to come.

Read more about the Royal Society’s priorities for the next government in our Manifesto for Science.


  • Sir Adrian Smith PRS

    Sir Adrian Smith PRS

    Sir Adrian Smith became President of the Royal Society in 2020. He is a mathematician with expertise in Bayesian statistics and his comprehensive publications on diverse areas of Bayesian statistics have had a major impact on statistical practice in a wide range of disciplines and application areas. Adrian is Chair of the Board of the Diamond Light Source. Between 2008-2012, he was Director General, Knowledge and Innovation in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and has previously worked with the UK Higher Education Funding and Research Councils. He was a board member of the UK Atomic Energy Authority from 2016 to 2022 and in 2017 he carried out a review of the maths curriculum for 16-18 year olds for the Treasury and Department for Education. He recently stepped down as Institute Director and Chief Executive of The Alan Turing Institute. In the 2011 New Year Honours list, he was awarded the title of Knight Bachelor.