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President of the Royal Society calls on party leaders to support science for all in society

14 November 2019

The President of the Royal Society has written to party leaders ahead of the General Election urging them to support and invest in UK Science and warning this valuable national asset has been “neglected for too long”.

Alongside the letter from Venki Ramakrishnan, the Society is publishing its “manifesto for science” (PDF), which provides a road map for the next Government to harness science to power the economy, create jobs and make lives better for all.

Priorities in the manifesto include assurances on funding science and attracting international talent after Brexit and the need to lead urgent action on climate change. While reforming education and harnessing the benefits of AI and machine learning will also be key to ensuring Britain’s prosperity in the coming decades. 

“Science is one of the UK’s most valuable national assets but for too long it has been taken for granted,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and has led the national science academy since 2015.

“The Royal Society’s manifesto sets out how the next Government should capitalise on the UK’s outstanding strengths in science.

“From personalised cancer treatments tailored to our genomes, machine learning making transport more efficient, or green technologies helping to avert the worst effects of climate change – while creating new jobs at the same time – science is at the heart of issues that matter to the electorate.

“But the support and leadership of the next Government will be vital if UK Science is to deliver on its full potential.” 

Attract and invest

European Union research funding and collaborations have been central to the growth and global influence of UK Science over the last 40 years. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, it is vital that the UK:

  • Retains and attracts top international talent; by streamlining its bureaucratic immigration system, empowering universities and research funders to guarantee visas for researchers, technicians, and their families, and by opening up residency to innovators who turn their research into successful UK companies.
  • Provides certainty on funding and collaboration; by guaranteeing the UK will be part of Horizon Europe, committing to achieve 3% GDP invested in R&D by 2030, with one third of this investment from the public sector. This should be backed up by a “roadmap to 3%” which commits to invest across the UK and to ensure education and training delivers individuals equipped for careers in STEM with broad, balanced foundations in the arts and humanities that will allow them to think critically and creatively.

Reaching net zero

These steps will be essential for tackling issues of climate change and biodiversity loss which will require bold action at home, and as a leader on the world stage.

Major reductions in carbon emissions will be necessary from all sectors of the UK economy over the next decades and the adoption of technologies that are carbon neutral and which actively capture and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere will be key.

The Society’s manifesto calls for research and development of long-term energy storage, affordable flexible renewables – such as printed solar cells – carbon-negative building materials and direct air carbon capture.

These technologies are already being pioneered in UK universities and companies, from Swansea to Norwich, but they need an environment that incentivises innovation and expansion, and the expert personnel to grow.

It must be made easier for the public and businesses to make greener choices, and to adapt to the realities of a warming climate by limiting building on flood plains and restoring natural flood defences like saltmarshes and peatlands.

Build for tomorrow

The UK must also build on its world-leading strengths in fields like genomics, machine learning and AI, which are transforming working lives, and offer powerful new tools for researchers. 

These advances will create new jobs and opportunities, but also new challenges. The UK has a proud tradition of ethically adopting new technology, it must uphold this by working with the public on issues like privacy or training for those whose jobs may be lost or changed by automation.

To ensure everyone can succeed in this changing workplace, schools and colleges must offer a broad and balanced range of subjects, right up until age 18. This gives young people the best opportunity to develop skills like problem solving, team work and communication that will become even more valuable in future. 

Letters to party leaders

Conservatives (PDF)

Labour (PDF)

Liberal Democrats (PDF)


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