Adam Afriyie on Tory science policy

Adam Afriyie MP

Shadow minister for science and innovation

The UK has the biggest budget deficit in the G8. Our share of world exports has fallen by almost one third since 1997. Business spending on R&D remains behind our competitors and the UK’s corporate tax rate has fallen from 11th to the 23rd lowest.

As Conservatives we want Britain to be open for business once more. We want to raise the status of science, design and engineering in particular, and create the best conditions for a more balanced, high-tech recovery. Whether developing new medicines, delivering high-speed rail or rolling out super-fast broadband, we will need world-class engineering to meet our ambitions for Britain. Engineering is not just an academic subject, but an approach to problem solving that’s sorely needed for Britain’s recovery.

The Conservative business team recently hosted a Listening to Business event at the Institute of Civil Engineers, which made it clear that there are real concerns about recruitment into the profession, so we need to start by ensuring a healthy supply of new scientists and engineers.

Our plans for more apprenticeships will help. These will be based in the workplace, not just the classroom. Our plans for a new generation of Technical Academies are designed to raise the status and quality of technical skills in society. High-quality teachers are also a vital ingredient for opening access to good science for more young people, so we will repay the student-loan obligations of highly qualified science graduates for every year they spend in the classroom. This will provide tangible incentives for science graduates to inspire the next generation.

“We will repay the student loans of science graduates for every year they spend in the classroom”

Second, we need new ideas to fuel the high-tech recovery. That’s why we must preserve the excellence of our research base. Science and engineering are long-term ventures, so we are determined to protect universities’ capacity for basic research. The government’s attempt to force an unpopular ’impact’ agenda on universities has rightly angered many academics. Our decision to postpone the Research Excellence Framework is important in these uncertain times. We need to reassess its objectives and make certain that we have clear definitions and measurements in place if we are to proceed.

Under current plans, universities would be assessed for future funding based on the impact of research they are already carrying out. Yet, bizarrely, when I gave the universities minister the chance to define impact in a written answer, I was told that the issue was still subject to consultation. It may be that impact is highly prized in some fields, such as engineering, where there is a record of successful impact and collaboration. But with the vast range of disciplines it is important to verify that we are defining and measuring impact appropriately.

Apprenticeships
Apprenticeships will be based in the workplace

Finally, we need to create the right conditions for innovators and entrepreneurs to lead the recovery. Our plans for lower business taxes and the easing of business regulations through a ’one-in-one-out’ policy will go some way to help. But government procurement must also be applied more effectively to release innovation from small and medium-sized enterprises, and to support the development of promising new technologies.

We are looking at ways to reform the SBIR in line with recommendations from the Richard Review in order to replicate the successful elements of the US scheme.

As the election approaches, it is clear that we cannot go on with the failed policies that left us poorly equipped for recovery. It is time to engineer a new economic model that can deliver high-tech jobs, exports and business investment as a sound foundation for the future.

Adam Afriyie
Shadow minister for science and innovation

Education

Degree in agricultural economics from Imperial College

Career

1993 Founding director of IT company Connect Support Services

2005 Elected as MP for Windsor

2006 Conservative parliamentary leader for TMT – Technology, Media and Telecoms

2007 Appointed Conservative shadow minister for innovation, universities and skills