Where will science feature in the next Prime Minister’s priorities? As the country prepares for a new leader, our Director Paul Nurse urges him to put science at the top of his to-do list.
The importance of science
Science matters. It has shaped our society for centuries, is driving changes now, and will shape the future of every one of us.
Take life expectancy: a century ago, you could only expect to live until you were 50. Children born today can expect to live for 80 years or more. That’s happened because of changes driven by scientific understanding.
Looking to the future, science will help us address some of society’s biggest challenges. Here are some examples: scientists identified climate change and are seeking ways of addressing it. We’re living through a revolution in life sciences which will help tackle some of the world’s deadliest diseases. Artificial Intelligence is helping transform everything from healthcare to infrastructure.
Investing in our future
Britain is a leading scientific nation, the home of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. We have a rich research history, but today our investment is pitiful, lagging behind other countries. We spend 1.7% of our GDP on research and development, while the US, Germany and Japan spend around 3%. The Government has committed to bringing investment up to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. We need a long-term plan to deliver this.
This plan needs to think about training and attracting scientists. The Science Minister has said we need an extra 260,000 researchers across the country in the next decade. That means training more scientists ourselves, as well as continuing to welcome those from abroad.
Preparing the next generation
The schoolchildren of today are Britain’s scientists of tomorrow. That’s part of the reason why we must make sure our young people have a high-quality science education. But building a scientifically literate nation also helps us have informed national discussions about future developments and technologies. The UK regulations on editing the genomes of human embryos were shaped by extensive discussions across society. Science literacy helps facilitate that kind of national debate.
Welcoming talent from abroad
Science is international. The UK must stay open to the world, so that skilled scientists want to come and work here, and are able to do so. That means sending out much more welcoming messages but also cutting the paperwork. If I stacked up the papers required for just one visa for one scientist, the pile would overspill most desks. We need to streamline the processes involved to make it easier for people and their families to come here.