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SCIENCE PROGRAMME

New Horizons: The UK’s Global Science Strategy Beyond Horizon Europe

The UK’s Global Science Strategy Beyond Horizon Europe.
February 18, 2023
New Horizons: The UK’s Global Science Strategy Beyond Horizon Europe

The ingredients for the UK to become a ‘science superpower’ are already present: an excellent academic base, thriving science parks and long-term government support — plus the creation of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Combined with strong leadership and a forward thinking strategy, the UK can remain and thrive as a global science hub, attracting global talent and investment.

Onward’s case for what the UK’s global science strategy might look like beyond Horizon Europe. 

Science, technology and innovation are woven into the UK’s national story. They are essential parts to delivering national growth and development. No one questions the need for the UK to have stronger growth and greater prosperity. But, in the post-Brexit landscape, the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe remains uncertain. While committed to association, the UK cannot allow its science base to be on hold indefinitely. 

The decade-long stagnation in productivity growth, a transition to a net zero energy economy, current geopolitical threats and an ageing population are among the challenges to which science, technology and innovation must be applied. So, in or out, how does the UK continue to nurture its thriving innovation sectors? 

The opportunity is ripe to seize the post-Brexit era and ensure the domestic regulatory system is agile and pro-innovation. To protect the UK’s science base, it is wise the Government is developing a contingent ‘Plan B’ for how its research and development funds can be spent. ‘Science superpower’ and ‘innovation nation’ are shared missions, the question and challenge now lies in how they are delivered.

Key points of the discussion:

  1. Talent. In or out of Horizon Europe international collaboration remains a core ingredient for scientific and technological innovation. It is crucial that the UK can attract and retain talent, to ensure the sector continues to flourish. Post-Brexit institutions and funding strategies must be created and supported while attractive to global talent. People must be at the core of developing our science prowess.
  2. Levelling up. Financial support is important, and the Government’s spending uplift is real and significant. But, delivering the ‘science superpower’ mission cannot rest solely upon the Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge. Clusters must be supported across the UK, delivering local, national and international benefits.
  3. Sustained investment. Criticism has been rife about the inconsistent approaches the UK has taken to investing in its science base. To truly become a ‘science superpower’, sustained investment is needed across the sector and across the nation. This requires a sector-wide approach including infrastructure, people, technologies and universities. In or out of Horizon Europe, sustained and long-term Government support is essential. 

One panellist, Professor Richard Jones, Chair of Materials Physics and Innovation Policy and Vice-President of Regional Innovation and Civic Engagement at Manchester University, said:

“We must aspire to be an ‘innovation nation’, but to build that, we need innovation cities and innovation regions all across the UK.”

Another panellist, The Rt Hon. Lord David Willetts said:

“Technologies and missions cannot be conflated. Otherwise crucial funding may be lost or redirected. It must be remembered that general purpose technology is often the most disruptive. It cannot be forgotten that successful missions depend on prior investment in general purpose technologies. When President Kennedy announced the moonshot, there had already been at least five years of American funding of rocket technologies. That is what made the mission possible, the complementarity of missions and technologies. Success needs both.” 

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