Science and innovation have an important part to play in defining the UK’s place in the world in the 21st century, writes the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities
The UK has a long and brilliant history of scientific discovery and breakthrough. The latter part of 2014 saw British scientists helping to tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, working at the centre of the Rosetta Mission to explore comet 67P to gain insight into the origins of our planet (pictured) and Professor John O’Keefe winning a Nobel Prize.
The UK’s ability to capitalise on its cutting edge science base will be critical to our future prosperity and societal wellbeing. By supporting innovation and transforming our science into new products and services, we will create new jobs, innovative businesses and allow the UK to take the lead in new markets.
This drive forms the foundation of the Government’s Science and Innovation Strategy, which I launched recently at the Royal Society. In it, government committed £5.9 billion capital to support scientific excellence out to 2021 – the most long-term commitment to science capital in decades. Working in tandem with our industrial strategy, our Science and Innovation Strategy sets out how we will tackle the future grand challenges for society and identify the key questions and priorities for research and innovation, including the 8 Great Technologies.
The UK’s science base is truly extraordinary – our research base is world leading, our universities areworld-class, we develop and attract the world’s brightest minds and we are second in the world when ranked by Nobel prizes. This record attracts global companies, and makes us the partner of choice for research collaborations.
However, we can’t be complacent. Science and innovation is increasingly a global enterprise, and the UK’s ability to capitalise on its cutting edge science base will be critical to our future prosperity and societal wellbeing. Building on this excellent track record will allow us to maximise inward investment and stay at the cutting edge.
Our mission is to establish the UK as a world-leading knowledge economy. Addressing this crucial challenge requires both public and private sector commitment as we continue the broader work of economic recovery and rebalancing. Businesses that invest in research and other forms of innovation have higher productivity, create high quality jobs and are more likely to export.
In order to make the most of our strong science base, it is vital that we have flourishing centres of sustainable innovation. Science parks form a key part of this picture, and I’ve been impressed by those like Exeter Science Park, Sci-Tech Daresbury and Discovery Park in Sandwich that I have visited. They are a vital part of local and national research and innovation infrastructure, supporting and driving the development and commercialisation of new technologies and clusters.
They also often form the heart of a cluster itself, being the home of many key elements of the UK’s research and innovation capabilities and offering access to networks and expertise for small innovative businesses.
The Government is working to strengthen our partnerships between the public and private sector, and help these clusters prosper and grow. That is why we have put in place measures to strengthen local engagement in innovation, such as Local Enterprise Partnerships to empower local businesses, their partners and universities to drive decisions that help local economies grow.
A further example of encouraging local engagement and strengthening partnership between the public and private sector is the development of University Enterprise Zone pilots in Bristol, Bradford, Liverpool and Nottingham. These will increase interaction between universities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and businesses to help fledgling companies to innovate and grow. Government funding of £15 million in this initiative has leveraged double that amount in co-investment, making each project more sustainable.
Of course, our science and innovation base can only be as good as the people that it can attract, educate, train and retain. That is why we are also investing across the skills pipeline, from primary school to university. In particular, we are addressing the next frontier in higher level skills that will be vital for the future success of our science parks through bold new loan support for postgraduates.
But the Government cannot do this alone. Science and innovation is the result of partnerships with business, with charities, institutions, individuals, and with our global collaborators. We look forward to working with members of the UK Science Park Association to deliver together.
This article first appeared in the spring edition of Innovation into Success, which is out now