What about Britain’s ambitions to become a science and technology ‘superpower’ by 2030? According to a report by the Lords Science and Technology Committee, it’s currently on track to make the phrase an “empty slogan”.
The colleagues, led by committee chair Julia King (Baroness Brown of Cambridge), an engineer with a promotion in Fracture Mechanics, said there are no “specific, measurable outcomes,” no delivery schedule, short-term perspective, and “frequent policy changes.”
That report [PDF] offers suggestions for action to create a more successful science and technology strategy that “recognizes the existing structure of the UK economy and [has] a plan to expand the UK manufacturing base if that is the intention.”
It comes six months after the government spoken its R&D budget of £39.8bn (c$48.2bn). The idea was to implement the government’s Innovation Strategy 2021, which includes a target to increase total R&D investment to 2.4 percent of GDP by 2027.
The government is now proposing tapping into the private sector to reach the 2.4 percent target, an idea the committee found “unconvincing”.
The committee said: “The government hopes to use private sector funding to help meet the 2.4 per cent target. She has identified areas for reform that would be more successful. The industry has not paid enough attention to the government’s strategy.”
King said there is “a plethora of strategies in different areas with little enforcement and fewer linkages.” She added: “It is often unclear who is responsible for individual guidelines and, above all, for their implementation.”
She added: “Internationally, failure to join Horizon Europe and recent cuts in official development assistance have tarnished the UK’s reputation. The UK cannot be a scientific superpower in isolation; the relationships need to be repaired.”
About the target, David Willetts (Baron Willetts) thought that reaching the target “would be a hell of a sight than 1.7 or 1.8 percent where we are now.” However, Willetts noted that in 2017 it should match the OECD average, which had risen to 2.68 per cent by 2020, meaning the UK “will still lag behind comparable countries”.
The report recommended “a gradual shift in engagement with industry” to reach the 2.4 percent metric.
Horizon Europe, Funding and Career Science
The committee said it had heard evidence from groups including the Turing Institute, the UK Space Agency, the Royal Academy of Engineering, UKCloud and many of the major universities, many of which shared their deep “concern at the UK’s lack of connection with Horizon Europe after the… Brexit .” The EU’s “key funding program for research and innovation” has a budget of 95.5 billion euros (c $97.6 billion).
The UK has already received a relatively large chunk of funding from the project’s predecessor, Horizon 2020, in which it was a “prominent” participant prior to leaving the EU. “Between 2014 and 2020, UK researchers received over €7 billion (c 7.5 billion US dollars) from the “Horizon 2020″ program … 12.1 percent of all funds awarded, second only to Germany,” says the report.
Technical efforts and facilities funded by Horizon 2020 include: Open-source Microsoft Office rival CollaboraProtonMail parent company Proton Technologies AG, the Funky computer lab in Bristolthe Li-Fi group, Local graph researchand the European processor initiativeworking on its own RISC-based chip project for Europe.
Attempts have been made associate [PDF] with Horizon Europe, and the UK government intends to do so in principle, this has not happened as disagreements over the UK’s relationship with the EU continue.
Part of the reason for this is the UK’s attempt under Boris Johnson’s government to abandon post-Brexit trade deals, which deal with the fact that EU country Ireland and the British territory of Northern Ireland share a common island border – known as the Northern Ireland Protocol. The protocol commits to controlling certain goods in Northern Ireland ports and that NI will comply with EU regulations on product standards.
The protocol is part of the Brexit deal the UK signed, says the European Union, which called the attempt “illegal and unrealistic”. Currently, protocol is a hot potato among candidates in the race to replace Johnson as UK Prime Minister – who is “early” elected by just 160,000 members of the ruling Conservative Party September.” Liz Truss, who introduced the bill terminating the UK government’s post-Brexit deal with the EU for obstructing the Good Friday Agreement the UK government has reached with the leaders of the Republic of Ireland and the constituent region of Northern Ireland insisting she would proceed with steps she claims are “legal.” Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, advocates a “negotiated settlement with the EU”.
As for what the funding issues mean for science, scientists telling the committee said it means the talent – international scientists working on innovative research at UK universities – does not want to stay in the country as it is seen as limiting both careers and opportunities for funding and collaboration so that they either move or are considering moving their research elsewhere.
The report quotes Computational Mechanics Prof Chris Pearce, Associate Head of Research at the University of Glasgow, as saying: Horizon Europe “is one of the most successful, internationally collaborative research funding frameworks out there, and we are essentially frozen by it at the moment.
“Any university will give you examples of projects that are pending. We are not included in new projects because we are seen as a risk. It is well documented that a number of Economic and Social Research Council grantees are considering attending their prestigious awards elsewhere.”
The report also explains that in June the European Research Council announced that it would cancel 115 grants that had been offered to UK-based researchers. Nineteen of the researchers have now agreed to go abroad to keep their funding.
Unless you’re a big name, the EU has a lot more funding for early beginners and junior researchers. Not have [Horizon funding] for the British is a great success
UK-based researchers cannot access their grants as Horizon Europe rules require them to be located in an EU or associated country.
An EU-based researcher who spoke to us anonymously said: ‘It doesn’t affect working with specific people on the continent because you have your money, they have their money – you can work together. But if you need to get grants based on collaboration, then you don’t have access to EU collaborations.”
Whether it’s affecting your career, they added: “It depends on what stage you’re at. Unless you’re a big name, the EU has a lot more funding for early beginners and junior researchers. Not having them for the British is a problem. “Big hit.”
Plan B and competition
The UK, meanwhile, has announced it will spend the money currently earmarked for Horizon on a “Plan B”, despite media reports recommend that “equivalent funding” may not be on the way, as Science Secretary George Freeman has reportedly fought with the Treasury Department over funding.
The UK currently has no science minister, whose position has been vacant since July 7, when Freeman announced his resignation along with much of Boris Johnson’s government in a bid to force the then Prime Minister to resign.
“Besides the obvious appeal of competitive pay, there must be manageable immigration policies, a reliable regulatory environment, clear career paths and access to capital, both human and financial,” the report says.
“However, shaping the talent pool as a competition must not lead to a narrow-minded approach that misses the key to success in science in international cooperation. Efforts to attract and retain talent will be difficult to succeed without recognizing and acknowledging this fact. We should also aim to democratize access to and participation in data science and AI technologies and, where possible, share these advances with the global community.”
The committee said it welcomed “the indication that the government is thinking more strategically about British science and technology, recognizing that Britain cannot be ‘world best’ at everything”.
The report went on to say that R&D policy has been hampered by a short-term perspective and “frequent policy changes, particularly when strategies that should have been long term are abandoned after a few years”.
The Turing Institute, meanwhile, warned “against any overly competitive framework that might alienate international partners, noting that science is an international, collaborative endeavour.”
Among other recommendations in the report, the committee suggested that the government “must recognize that it cannot replicate the benefits of international cooperation domestically,” and said it should work on its collaboration and rebuild its reputation as a “reliable partner.” . It also proposed clarifying its role as a “technology investor” and said it was unclear how the government would overcome “risk aversion in R&D investments”.
The report also commended recent work on a strategic approach to metrics to measure progress – the Office for Science and Technology Strategy has committed to publishing metrics by the end of 2022.
Cyber-tech guys at NCC Group, meanwhile, said it might help to put together an independent, non-executive body tasked with driving a long-term science and technology strategy and reporting to government (independent of administration) on progress towards to be held accountable. ” ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/08/09/scitech_superpower/ UK plan to become ‘science superpower’ by 2030 doubtful • The Register