The Royal Society has published a new report entitled ‘The scientific century: securing our future prosperity’. The advisory group to the report was chaired by Sir Martin Taylor FRS and included two Nobel Laureates, two former ministers of science, and leading figures from two high-tech companies.
The report highlights last year’s announcement of a $21 billion boost for science in the US and recent claims from American scientists that they will steal our finest minds if UK investment slips. It also draws attention to a recent €35 billion investment in the ‘knowledge economy’ by France, a commitment from the German government to increase their federal budget for education and research by €12 billion by 2013 and the year on year increase of 20% in China’s science spending over the last decade.
It also highlights the emergence of an innovation economy in the UK with universities becoming fledgling economic powerhouses. Patents granted to UK universities have increased by 136% between 2000 and 2008 and university spin outs employed 14,000 people in 2007/08 and had a turnover of £1.1 billion. While the report also cites examples of science driving successful sectors of the economy such as pharmaceuticals, business R&D is picked out as a weakness for the UK. In 2007 British companies spent 1.14% of GDP on R&D while in the US the figure was 1.9% and in Germany 1.8%.
To maximise the economic opportunities from science the Royal Society report recommends:
- Creating a 15 year framework for science and innovation, with increased spending
- Prioritising investment in scientific skills and infrastructure, such as laboratories and equipment
- Expanding the R&D tax credit