News / Slider / April 24, 2015

Discovery and Development: Next Steps for Great British Science

Nicola’s GE2015 Science Blog for the Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE)

My father still teaches cardiology at Oxford Medical Faculty, so I grew up not only having tutorials on the parasympathetic nervous system over breakfast but also with an acute appreciation of the life saving impact of restless scientific endeavor.

From a young age the lesson I learnt from history’s great scientific stories was that artificially narrowing your field of inquiry in the name of ‘short term impact’ risks losing the opportunity for groundbreaking discovery. I have remained a great believer in fundamental research ever since and an advocate for research funding models firmly founded on the Haldane Principle.

It is well known that the British scientific community is the most productive in the world. At just over 3% of the world’s R&D spending, we produce over 6% of the world’s publications and 16% of the world’s most cited papers. The evidence is clear: our researchers translate funding into great science more effectively than anyone else. And they attract more inward investment for research than any other part of Europe.

Of course, as part of the UK’s ‘Golden Triangle’ (Oxford-London-Cambridge), Oxford has unique academic, ‘big science’ and tech credentials that are driving discovery and growth on a local, national and international scale.

Science Vale Oxford has one of the largest concentrations of research facilities, not to mention researchers, in Europe. This cluster includes Culham Centre for Fusion Energy; STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory; Diamond Light Source, the national synchrotron facility; MRC facilities at Harwell; the new European Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre.

Oxford’s universities and institutes have not only produced more than 50 Nobel Laureates but are also leaders in UK technology transfer. Oxford University received over £39 million industry funding in 2010/2011, the highest in the UK, and generated the highest number of spin-outs from any UK university between 2010 and 2012.

And it’s not just spin-outs, numerous world class high tech companies choose Oxfordshire for their global HQ and R&D facilities, including Oxford Instruments, Gigaclear, Sophos, RM plc, and Infineum. State of the art facilities and access to a hyper-skilled labour pool make central Oxfordshire disproportionately attractive to high tech industry.

Our tech cluster focuses on four integrated fields:

• Life science: bioscience/medtech/pharm.

• Physics: cryogenics (Europe’s largest cluster), instruments and magnets

• Engineering and electronics

• Telecoms and computer hardware and software

When compared the Government’s ‘Eight Great Technologies ’ (big data, space, robotics, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, advanced materials, agricultural technologies, and energy storage) it is clear we have strong and growing capability in the first six and strong research strengths in the last.

As MP over the last five years I have made it my business not only ensure that science and science funding remain a key national priority but also that this constituency gets its fair share of that investment. I am proud to have voted, at a time of difficult economic choices, to ring- fenced the science budget, boost R&D credits and provide more financial support for research students. Not to mention campaigned from the outset of my Parliamentary career to encourage more girls into science and engineering pathways, whether through an academic or vocational route.

I have taken every opportunity to add more in depth experience to my core programme of meetings at local scientific institutes, labs, and tech companies, and support for STEM events like SET for Britain, the Oxfordshire Science Festival and ATOM! Science Fair. In particular, I was privileged to be paired with pre-eminent particle physicist Prof David Wark, world leading immunologist Prof Kathryn Wood, and BT’s chief cyber security expert, Dr Robert Ghanea-Hercock, on the outstanding Royal Society Pairing Scheme.

If elected, I will continue to fight to protect both research and capital spending in the future and ensure Conservative Manifesto Commitments for £6.9bn investment in research infrastructure to 2021 and a £2.9bn Grand Challenges Fund become reality. We must continue to deliver nationally significant collaborations in strategic fields, like the string of major projects funded in this Parliament, many including Oxford as a lead University, like the Alan Turing Institute and the SKA, not to mention the National Graphene Institute and the UK National Quantum Technology Programme. But smaller scale research council funding must also remain to ensure researchers, in all fields, are funded to pursue excellent, curiosity-driven work.

Oxford West & Abingdon’s world class science and research base is inherently valuable, as well as critical to our economy. It is my job to ensure any future Government continues to prioritise not just protecting science funding, but providing certainty for scientists and innovators by ensuring talented new researchers are trained and retained and have the expertise to collaborate with business; by providing access to world class research infrastructure, and by ensuring we have the scientific capabilty to tackle today’s great global challenges and remain internationally competitive.


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