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Tories' win could be double-edged sword for science and engineering

As David Cameron heads back to Downing Street with the Tories set to win a majority, pre-election pledges for science and engineering hang in the balance.

There’s been a lot of positive talk on science in the Conservative manifesto, with science and innovation being the 11th most popular theme according to a mention-tracker feature – over 50 references.

The Conservatives also seemed to be the only party to have science and innovation in their top 20 themes from the manifestos that were analysed.

However, mentions don’t always translate into practice and the new government will be expected to get the ball rolling if they are to turn the UK into a world leader in science and engineering.

In a letter to the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), Cameron said that Britain could be “assured that a Conservative government will be committed to investing in science and engineering”.

Although the Tories have made investment pledges such as £1.1bn in science capital each year, rising with inflation up to 2020/21 and promised more resources for the Eight Great Technologies – big data, satellites, robotics and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science, advanced materials, energy storage – the manifesto failed to promise any new money.

Also on the Tory manifesto’s radar was the widely-debated skills shortage in STEM subjects. Some of the measures put forward to tackle it were to train 17,500 more maths and physics teachers, prevent Ofsted from awarding top marks to schools that don’t have GCSE science and also to ensure there is a University Technical College in every city.

They also promised to reform the student visa system with new measures to address abuse and reduce the numbers of students deciding to stay in the country once their visas expire. Whether this promise transpires to be the same reform Home Secretary Theresa May suggested in November, which would require anyone whose student visa expired to leave and reapply if they want to continue their studies or take up a job, remains to be seen.

Also subject for debate is the Tories intention of maintaining the skilled immigration cap at 20,700 during the next Parliament, as there is no secret the UK has hit a wall in terms of capacity and skills.

The next government is duty bound to ensure that the country continues to attract the people it needs, as well as setting out comprehensive reforms of the immigration system. However, no clear policies were targeted at attracting or retaining talent and workers in the UK in the manifesto.

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