UK ‘science superpower’ ambition supported by £360m fund
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to help make the UK a science and technology “superpower” by the end of the decade.
The government has launched today its plan to cement the UK’s place as a science and technology superpower by 2030.
The new Science and Technology Framework is the first major piece of work from the newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Its goal is to "challenge every part of the government to better put the UK at the forefront of global science and technology this decade".
The new plan is backed by an initial set of projects, including a £250m investment in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum technology and engineering biology, as well as the publication of a new review of UK research by Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute.
The government also pledged to ensure that researchers have access to the “best physical and digital infrastructure” for research and development, as part of efforts to attract the best talent to Britain.
"Trailblazing science and innovation have been in our DNA for decades," Sunak said. "But in an increasingly competitive world, we can only stay ahead with focus, dynamism and leadership.
"The more we innovate, the more we can grow our economy, create the high-paid jobs of the future, protect our security, and improve lives across the country."
The ambition to make the UK a “science superpower” was one of the central aims of Sunak’s premiership, which led to the creation of a bespoke Department for Science, Innovation and Technology in the latest Cabinet reshuffle.
The new secretary, Michelle Donelan, welcomed the new framework, stating that innovation and technology are the UK's "future".
"They hold the keys to everything from raising productivity and wages, to transforming healthcare, reducing energy prices and ultimately creating jobs and economic growth in the UK, providing the financial firepower allowing us to spend more on public services," she said.
"Only through being world-leaders in future industries like AI and quantum will we be able to improve the lives of every Briton.
In addition to the new funding, the government also announced it would extend once again the funding guarantee, this time until June, for successful applicants to the EU’s Horizon programme.
The UK’s associate membership of the €95bn (£81bn) Horizon Europe programme was foreseen in the 2020 Brexit agreement. However, the EU has been delaying the UK’s membership due to the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
However, the latest UK-EU agreement, dubbed the Windsor Framework, has raised scientists' hopes that a decision can be reached in regard to the UK's membership of Horizon.
“This Windsor Framework is good news for scientists and researchers in the European Union and in the UK,” Ursula Von der Leyen, the European Comission president told a press conference.
“Because, of course, the moment we have finished this agreement – so it’s an agreement in principle – the moment it’s implemented, I am happy to start immediately right now the work on an association agreement, which is the precondition to join Horizon Europe."
Nadeem Gabbani, Founder of Exobotics, commented: “It is great to see the government leading plans to support the science and technology industry, driving job creation and the development of emerging technologies to facilitate the growth of these high potential sectors as well as the UK economy.
“The investment can have a significant impact on industries such as space, benefiting from newly developed technologies for bespoke payloads alongside creating a highly skilled workforce."
Last summer, a cross-party group of peers on the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee described the government’s international science policy as “somewhat incoherent” and warned that the UK is “not on course to meet its ambitions” of becoming a science superpower by 2030.
This article was edited on March 6th 2023 at 15:55 to add comments from Exobotics' Nadeen Gabbani.
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