Britain set to lose ‘science superpower’ status

Fall in investment leads to British research suffering

Having previously been strides ahead of other developed nations in science research, Britain is set to lose its science superpower status after investment has fallen way below the average for other developed nations.

Lack of government funding into science endeavors means that Britain can’t fully reach its potential in research and development, currently spending about 1.7 per cent of its GDP on scientific research in public and private sectors.

Britain currently produces more than 15 per cent of the world’s scientific research despite only having one per cent of the world’s population.

MP’s have called for change in a recent report by The Science and Technology Committee, highlighting that Britain must double its spending to retain its science superpower status. Although the science budget hasn’t suffered the same recent cuts as many other public services, with the annual budget being protected since 2010, spending hasn’t increased since this time in course with inflation so Britain is now out of line with other major nations. There is also a significant lack of private sector investment into science services putting Britain’s productivity and high value jobs at risk.

Scientists and MPs alike have urged Chancellor George Osborne to use this month’s spending review to raise investment into science services, highlighting the far-reaching benefits greater investment into science can have. Prominent scientist Professor Brian Cox said “the foundations are strong and the message to government is clear: Invest now to grow our economy, inspire our young people and make Britain the best place in the world to do science. Anything less than a long term commitment to increased investment and science will be grossly negligent and damage our country, perhaps irreparably.”

The Science and Technology Committee’s report says that public and private sector science research and development investment in the UK should amount to three per cent of GDP – the EU target. University labs and national science facilities have struggled with the rising capital costs of equipment and running charges through inflation, some centres are not able to operate at full capacity and extra funding could counter the difficulties these services have faced.

For example, the £400 million ISIS neutron source at Harwell, Oxford has only been able to operate for 120 days this year in contrast to the optimal 180 days due to insufficient funding. As Nicola Blackwood MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee said “It’s a farcical situation.”

“We were shocked to discover a situation where national facilities were lacking investment and were unable to operate at full capacity.”

“Spending on science and innovation is not a state subsidy; it is a strategic investment that creates jobs, increases productivity and attracts inward investment.”

Other scientists have applauded the report for demonstrating that UK investment into research and innovation has been failing to keep pace with other leading nations such as Germany and Japan. Professor Sir John Tooke, President of Academy of Medical Sciences said :“We hope the Government will reflect on the committee’s findings and work with the sector to ensure that any changes further support the delivery of excellence, and make the UK the best place to carry out research and innovation.”

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