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Are there practical things the next Government can deliver on immediately when it comes to R&D?

In the run up to last week’s General Election, the main parties put science and engineering at the heart of their economic and industrial strategies.

In letters written to the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), the main parties set out their positions and made commitments to: education, immigration, global leadership and collaboration, investment, evidence and regulation.

According to CaSE executive director Dr Sarah Main, the letters – backed by manifesto commitments – showed all the main parties claimed that science and innovation was key to a more prosperous Britain and all manifestos seemed to be seeking to outdo each other in terms of commitments to and talk of huge investment in R&D.

The Conservatives committed to invest 2.4% of GDP in R&D by 2027, while Labour set a target of 3% by 2030. Currently, the UK spends only around 1.7% of GDP on R&D.

Both main parties claim they want to reinforce the UK’s position as a leader in science, but both parties’ positions on immigration could make that ambition extremely challenging to achieve. Immigration policy is likely to hit science and engineering particularly hard, especially if limits are placed on the number of people able to come to the UK.

Both parties are determined to end free movement and, whatever the complexion of the next government, that could stop the UK from attracting the brightest and the best and in the numbers required, whether for industry or academia.

Fear of a Brexit ‘brain drain’ is already affecting UK universities, with more than 1300 academics from the European Union having left the UK in the past 12 months.

According to research by the Russell Group, which represents 24 top UK universities, nearly 25,000 members of staff are from the EU and they make up nearly a quarter of academics.

Universities minister Jo Johnson has said that, throughout the Brexit process, the Conservatives would ensure the UK remains the go-to-place for scientists and innovators.

That’s great, but let’s hope that whoever has won the election moves quickly. Manifesto commitments are one thing, delivering practical, sensible solutions to prevent serious damage to the UK’s research and industrial base are quite another.

Neil Tyler

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