5 July 2017
On Wednesday 27 June Portcullis House was the scene for this year’s Parliamentary Links Day, the largest single science policy event in the Parliamentary calendar and it was a full house. The event brings together politicians, senior scientists and policy makers, providing the opportunity to increase the dialogue about the future of science while increasing collaborations between Westminster and the wider scientific community.
Opening the event was the House of Commons speaker, Rt Hon John Bercow, a strong advocate for science in Parliament. He spoke with his customary passion and vigour, supporting the timeliness of the session and the opportunity that such events provided to raise the profile of science in Westminster. The next speaker was Sir John Kingman, Chair Designate of the newly formed UKRI, the body set to control public science funding from 2018. Kingman paid tribute to the Government’s commitment to increasing R&D funding, and indicated that some of the most exciting science is now taking place across traditional scientific boundaries.
The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson MP, spoke about the challenges and opportunities ahead that face science in the UK. On the same day as the event, Johnson confirmed the Government’s commitment to underwrite science funding for the Joint European Torus (JET) project, the world’s largest nuclear fusion experiment taking place in Oxford. He went on to highlight some of the challenges that the Government faces in furthering research in the UK, such as economic imbalances throughout the country and historic underfunding of R&D in Britain.
Two panel sessions followed, hosted by the BBC’s Pallab Ghosh, discussing UK science and the relationships with Europe and the world. Professor Roberto di Lauro and Dr Lorenzo Melchor, from the Italian and Spanish embassies respectively, gave interesting insight from a European perspective following the Brexit vote last year. They noted the concerns of many European academics in the UK about current uncertainty over future residency rules and maintained that global science networks are the greatest testament to international collaboration.
The debate quickly turned to skills, as Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, stated the need for improvements to careers advice to ensure that not only pupils, but their parents, could share excitement for a career in STEM. Sir John Holman, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, discussed the need for scientific engagement in primary schools as trained school teachers often lack scientific qualifications and the confidence to teach science effectively.
To close proceedings, Stephen Metcalfe MP spoke fervently about the successes that the UK has found with regards to science, despite lower levels of capital investment than competitive countries. He called for the Government to seize the chance and allow the UK to be outward looking in the wake of Brexit, whilst attracting the best scientists to work in and work with Britain.