UK must invest in Science for a Successful Nation

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The UK needs to increase its investment in science and engineering research if it is to continue to be a successful nation. This is the overriding message coming from a major conference hosted this week by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The conference, 'Science for a Successful Nation', drew high profile academics, industry and business representatives, and researchers together to examine how science and engineering can make the UK a healthy, prosperous, resilient and connected nation.

Professor Philip Nelson FREng, EPSRC's Chief Executive said: Strong economies are science economies. They invest in the science and engineering research vital to national prosperity, security and wellbeing. This conference has been an opportunity to show just how much previous investments in science and engineering have contributed to the country over the past 20 years. However, it has also given us the chance to look into the future, to see what is necessary if we are to continue to improve the future shape of Britain's societal and economic infrastructure.

The conference culminated in a debate, chaired by Jason Palmer, Science and Technology correspondent at the Economist, which asked, 'How do we sustain the UK as a world-leading knowledge economy?' The panel was:

  • Professor Dame Ann Dowling DBE FREng FRS - President of the Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Professor Alice Gast - President of Imperial College London
  • Professor Mariana Mazzucato - Economist at the Science Policy Research Unit - University of Sussex
  • Marianne Hinson - Head of Aerodynamics Design and Technology at McLaren Racing F1 Team
  • Dr Lesley Thompson - Director of Programmes - EPSRC

Commenting during the debate, Professor Dame Ann Dowling said:

"We need sustainable, agreed support for research and innovation, because it is generally recognised to instigate growth in the economy. So, all-party buy-in is essential to support a long-term funding regime that will encourage industry to invest here and also encourage global companies to establish R&D centres in the UK."

Professor Dame Ann Dowling

The conference came on the same day as the EPSRC and the Royal Academy of Engineering jointly launched an independent report which assessed the returns to the country on investments in engineering research and postgraduate training.

It estimates that engineering-related sectors contributed circa £280 billion in gross value added (GVA) in 2011, equivalent to 20 per cent of the UK's total GVA. Engineering-related sectors exported goods and services valued at around £239 billion in 2011, some 48 per cent of the total value of exports for that year.

Similarly the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) clearly demonstrates the impact arising from the UK research base and, in particular, from the engineering and physical sciences.

EPSRC's analysis of the REF case studies within the engineering and physical sciences panel shows:

  • Over 85 per cent of case studies involved EPSRC funded research and/or researchers, and significant numbers of the studies are relevant to key UK sectors such as manufacturing, aerospace and defence, and healthcare.
  • The studies cite over £1 billion of EPSRC funding - coupled with a similar level of funding from other sources including government, EU and industry. This demonstrates the high levels of additional investment EPSRC support can attract.
  • EPSRC investments are associated with over £60 billion of economic activity such as sales revenue and with over £16 billion of cost savings in the public and private sectors.
  • EPSRC investments are associated with the creation of 400 new businesses, employing over 50,000 people and contributing £4 billion to the economy in terms of revenue.

Science for a Successful Nation was held at The Royal Society in London. The event had sessions dedicated to examining how:

  • to maintain the UK's resilience against natural and man-made threats;
  • to retool the NHS to address the challenges and opportunities posed by rising healthcare costs and an aging population;
  • we can use our complex and interconnected infrastructure in a sustained way;
  • talented people can fuel innovation for a prosperous nation.

For further information please contact the EPSRC Press Office.

Notes for Editors:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

The Joint EPSRC/RAEng report Assessing the economic returns of engineering research and postgraduate training in the UK, has been compiled by the Technopolis group. It highlights the remarkable contribution of engineering to the nation's economy and the everyday lives of UK citizens.

A summary document, Engineering for a Successful Nation, is also available.

Reference: PN 12-15