This week was manifesto week in the general election campaign. The Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and UKIP all published their plans for the UK if they make it into government after 7 May. This is the first in a series of three blog posts which will examine what the manifestos say in relation to our key areas of policy work; research and innovation, education policy and sustainability issues.
Back in February, The Royal Society, together with our sister academies, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering published Building a stronger future, a joint statement outlining how the next government can make the UK the best place in which to do research and innovation. We’ve been looking at each of the manifestos to see how they compare to our vision.
Government support for research and innovation
In our joint statement we urge the next government to strengthen public investment in research and innovation and we’re pleased to see that four of the five manifestos make commitments in this area.
Labour promise to introduce a new long-term funding policy framework for science and innovation which will provide stability and continuity for companies and research institutes. They refer specifically to the opportunities for new technologies in the fields of robotics, genetics, 3D printing and big data.
The Conservative manifesto refers to the £6.9bn worth of capital funding already agreed by the Coalition Government for UK research infrastructure; reiterates their plans to invest in regional science and technology projects, including creating a northern powerhouse; and promises further resources for their ‘Eight Great Technologies’ and more Catapult Centres. You can find out more information about all of these initiatives in our earlier blogs on the Science and Innovation Strategy and the Autumn Statement.
The Liberal Democrats promise to maintain the science ringfence making them the only party to specifically incorporate our call for the next government to ‘secure the ring fence around the science budget‘. They promise to increase both capital and revenue spending in line with inflation by 2020 and, similarly to the Conservatives, commit to creating more Catapult Centres.
The Green party manifesto commits to gradually increasing public spending on scientific research from 0.5% to 1% of GDP over the next 10 years, which echoes our call for ‘investments levels that keep pace with other leading knowledge economies’ and makes them the only party to commit to investing more money in research. Their manifesto suggests there is a need for more funding for basic research and research on environmental issues specifically.
Creating a skilled workforce
Greater investment in science means there will be greater demand for research skills. Even without further investment, 1.28 million workers will be required to fill science, engineering and technology roles by 2020. In Building a stronger future we outline how the next government can meet this demand by creating a flexible and diverse workforce. Many of our calls in this area relate to education policy which we will discuss in a later blog post.
Our statement explains the importance of having appropriate policies in place to encourage valuable immigration and minimise unnecessary barriers to the flow of skilled workers and international students.
The Liberal Democrats promise to allow high-skill immigration to support key sectors and ensure the UK is an attractive destination for overseas students, especially for those wanting to study STEM subjects. They will also reinstate post-study work visas for STEM graduates who can find graduate-level employment within six months of completing their degree and will separate international students within official immigration statistics.
The Green Party would also remove all restrictions on foreign students in future immigration controls and would allow students to work in the UK for two years after graduation.
Similarly, the UKIP manifesto recognises that international students make an important contribution to the UK and promises to categorise them separately in immigration figures. In terms of skilled immigration, UKIP would introduce a points-based system to manage the number and skills of people coming into the country.
Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party pledge to maintain the current cap on skilled immigration from outside the EU and reform the student visa system to prevent abuse in their manifestos.
In our statement we highlight the benefits of multiple education and career pathways and apprenticeships are one such pathway which can help create a diverse and flexible workforce.
All five of the manifestos include commitments to deliver new and improved apprenticeships. The Conservatives promise to continue replacing lower-level, classroom-based further education courses with high quality apprenticeships, including rolling out more degree apprenticeships. In total they promise to deliver 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020.
The Labour Party and the Green Party both go slightly further, guaranteeing every school-leaver that gets the required grades an apprenticeship if they want one. The Green Party would increase funding for apprenticeships by 30% while the Labour Party, similarly to the Conservatives, would make sure that apprenticeships can lead to higher level qualifications by creating new ‘Technical Degrees.’
If successful in the election, the Liberal Democrats would aim to double the number of businesses which hire apprentices and develop a national skills strategy to solve skills gaps in key sectors.
And finally, UKIP promise to introduce an option for students to take an apprenticeship qualification in place of four non-core GCSEs. Students could then continue their apprenticeships past the age of 16, working with certified professionals qualified to grade their progress.
On the whole, all five manifestos contain promising commitments for science although only the Green’s commit to investing more money in research. For now we will have to wait and see which party or parties make it in to government after 7 May and whether they deliver on their promises. In the meantime, look out for our next blog on the manifestos which will look at whether the parties’ education policies will inspire and support the next generation of excellent scientists.