From Monday 24 September 2012

I’m new to party conferences, but I felt remarkably at home during Julian Huppert’s policy motion: Developing a future – policies for science and research.

The science-savvy Lib Dems, voted unanimously to pass a motion (available here) for a ring-fenced science budget, for both revenue and capital expenditure. What’s more, the Lib Dems also backed plans to increase the science budget by 3% above inflation for 15 years.

The motion, which was passed with two amendments (The first on maximizing EU research funding and mobility opportunities, and the second endorsing a framework to strengthen the evidence base for public policy – through randomized controlled trials – published by the Cabinet Office), generated lively debate, not unlike those you might hear in the corridors of the Royal Society:

• What can be done to improve the diversity of those studying science and entering the science profession?
• How do we keep science open, open to international students and researchers, and open in terms of access to publications and data?
• How do we strengthen science and computing teaching and learning in schools?

Vince Cable covered some of these issues in his speech to the Royal Society earlier in the summer.

As many areas of public spending continue to face savage cuts, some might worry that future investment in science will be seen as an unaffordable luxury. But science, as Huppert sets out in his paper, is key to the future success of the UK. The Lib Dems have agreed the case for sustained investment in science with their own party members, but is this investment goal ambitious enough and can they succeed in achieving a cross-party consensus?

We’ll be following the debate at the next two Party conferences…