CaSE says parties’ Brexit stances will impact STEM

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has claimed that the ‘very different’ stances of the main political parties on Brexit will have a knock-on effect for the UK’s scientific future.

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Having written a letter to the leaders of the parties asking them to outline their policies on STEM, and having examined their manifestos, CaSE has evaluated the position of each. All parties recognise the great importance of science and engineering, seemingly “bidding to out-do each other in the voracity of their commitments”, according to CaSe executive director Dr Sarah Main. However, their policies in areas such as education, immigration, trade, regulation and collaboration would all impact the UK scientific community differently.

“The Conservatives are forthright in their claims to want to make the UK a leading science and innovation nation,” said Main, noting the party’s commitment to invest 2.4 per cent of GDP in R&D by 2027. “But their aims for international science leadership are likely to be made more difficult to deliver by their current immigration positions and a hard Brexit.”

Dr Main claims that the Conservatives’ immigration policy is particularly challenging for science and engineering. Although their manifesto states that businesses and universities need to attract “the brightest and the best”, their commitment to “bear down” on net migration will conflict with this.

Meanwhile, Labour commits to R&D spending of 3 per cent of GDP by 2030, referencing Atlee and Wilson and claiming to be the “party of science”. Its ‘middle road’ on Brexit would end free movement while seeking to remain in the Single Market, despite Brussels previously indicating that this will not be possible. Labour also wants to retain membership of European scientific projects and organisations such as Horizon 2020, Euratom and the European Medicines Agency. In the UK, it wants to establish two new Catapults, focusing on metals & materials and retail.

The Lib Dems also propose keeping the UK within the Single Market and retaining access to European science funding. They claim that “huge damage” will be done if immigration reforms hamper scientific and academic collaboration. Similarly to Labour, they have a “long-term aim” to grow R&D spending to 3 per cent of GDP. The Lib Dems also see education as key to the country’s future and have pledged £7bn in additional funding to offset planned cuts. According to Dr Main, the parties’ various stances on education could have far-reaching consequences.

“The three major parties have very different ideas for education, which will impact on the supply of people into STEM careers,” she said.

“In schools, the Conservatives focus on outcomes such as knowing times tables, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats focus on supporting teachers. The Conservatives propose a new technical education system that will see Institutes of Technology able to provide degree-level courses, specialising in STEM. Labour propose free adult education and no tuition fees for undergraduate degrees. The Liberal Democrats would reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students.”

The full responses from each party to CaSE’s letter can be found here.