UK must invest in science and engineering

You gotta speculate to accumulate, say SET gurus

The UK must invest public money in exploiting science and engineering research if it is to remain competitive in a global economy, according to a study to be published this evening by the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB).

In the draft report, The Frontiers of Innovation: Wealth Creation from Science, the organisation sets out its recommendations for boosting the commercial exploitation of publicly-funded research.

Sir Alec Broers, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said that the UK faced increased global competition, particularly from China, which has over 600,000 SET graduates every year.

"University spin-outs were unknown [in China] 'til the mid-1990s and already they are making over $6bn a year from such new companies,” he said. “For the health of the UK economy we must give every support to the creative engineers who turn advances in science into products and capabilities that benefit society."

Proposals include new tax breaks in the form of venture capital trusts for those investing in early-stage research; improved funding to help commercialisation; and better co-ordination of SET spend across government departments.

The Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) sector is a catalyst for economic growth in the UK, argues ETB chairman, Sir Peter Williams. He wants government help, in terms of policy framework and funding, to make sure this continues, and improves.

SET “punches well above its weight in wealth creation”, Sir Peter went on. He cited a report from London Economics, which found that the construction, utilities, manufacturing and extraction sectors - the four biggest employers of SET professionals – directly created more than 27 per cent of the UK’s GDP value added in 2002.

Frontiers of Innovation will be debated at the Royal Society this evening before being finalised. It will then feed into the Treasury’s review of public spending on science. ®

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