Education, investment and incentives

If you’re an engineer planning to vote at the General Election on May 5, consider the opinions of the MPs that you are voting for…




Labour




We believe scientists and engineers play a key role in the UK’s economic growth and prosperity as well as helping with some of the biggest challenges we face, such as securing a sustainable environment and supporting developing countries.

Their importance will increase as they drive forward key industries, from aerospace, optoelectronics, and nanotechnology to new sources of energy and bio-engineering. We need to start young if we are to ensure that this country continues to produce and support first-rate scientists and engineers.




But too many of our young people think engineering is part of the ‘old economy’. We are committed to convincing them that it is an essential part of the new economy.




That’s why the government has put in place a wide range of measures to encourage young people to consider a career in engineering. We’ve created new qualifications such as the Engineering GCSE and we’re promoting the ‘Electronics in Schools programme’ in the design and technology curriculum, in conjunction with the Institution of Electrical Engineers.




We’re also working with the Engineering and Technology Board to extend our successful ‘Science and Engineering Ambassador’ scheme, which brings experienced and committed scientists and engineers into the classroom to inspire the next generation.




Our 10-year strategy is to invest substantially to support our universities and businesses to improve the rate of innovation, and develop and strengthen our science and engineering base. We’ve doubled the budget of the research councils from £1.3bn in 1997 to £3.4bn by 2007.

We’ve introduced incentives to support knowledge transfer from universities to businesses to help industry stay at the cutting edge. We’ve brought in R&D tax credits — worth over £600m a year — to encourage small businesses to invest in R&D. And we’ve set up a £370m Technology Strategy to help business create commercial advantage and develop demonstrators of next-generation technology in areas such as aerospace. – Patricia Hewitt, Industry Secretary.




Conservative




It is impossible to overestimate the importance that science and technology plays in our lives. Without science there is no technology. Without technology there can be little wealth creation or economic progress.




However, there is considerably more potential for progress by altering the relationship between government and the research and hi-tech sectors. We do not believe that interference from Westminster is beneficial to these sectors, but rather government should concentrate on providing the conditions in which progress can be made.




Help to develop hi-tech sectors must start in our education system. We will ensure the survival of key subjects such as engineering and


science at university level by offering undergraduate bursaries of £2,000, payable on graduation. We will also increase funding for universities to ensure the long-term security of science departments.




At the same time, we are committed to increasing government spending on science and will undertake a review of the funding structure to ensure that decisions are made without political interference. Government must promote effective scientific R&D and harness it for commercial development.




To do this we will encourage the development of a national network of Centres of Industrial Collaboration affiliated to leading universities. These will be staffed by commercially-minded academics capable of joining up the UK science base with business.




The Conservatives will back our commitment to science and research by providing a stable and strong economy, underpinned by low regulation and low tax — an environment allowing innovation and enterprise to thrive. – Stephen O’Brien, shadow industry secretary.

Liberal Democrats




We see scientific research and technological development as foundational to the successful knowledge-based economy the UK needs to maintain its standard of living in a rapidly industrialising world.




R&D spending in the UK is low relative to our major competitors, and we must increase this across both the public and private sectors. Government has a role to play in funding basic research in universities or through the Research Councils. In addition, there are areas of policy where the provision of high-quality independent research is critical to public confidence in outcomes.




The UK, with only one per cent of the world’s population, produces five per cent of the world’s scientific research, and achieves 11 per cent of all citations globally in scientific papers: the highest ratio of citations-to-GDP of any country.




How do we convert this position into useful technologies and successful businesses exploiting them? There is compelling evidence that this happens best when there is dynamic interaction between pools of trained and resourceful scientists, and entrepreneurs who understand what technologies are in demand and how to structure and finance the ventures to produce them.




We will combine all funding for science into a single stream, administered by an Office of Science and Technology. Total spending will rise by an average of 2.3 per cent in real terms each year of the parliament.  The increase to the research councils will be even greater.


There will be smaller class sizes, together with substantial investment to ensure that every child is taught maths, science and ICT. – Malcolm Bruce, Industry Spokesman.