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UK government's science project gets mixed report

Not bad, but could do better

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The government has issued its first annual report on the ten-year, billion-pound framework on science and innovation investment. Although it says the road ahead will be tough, it has found some reasons for optimism.

The numbers of students applying to study Physics at A-level fell again in 2004/2005, but applications for places on Biology and Chemistry courses were up, slightly, in the same period.

Recruiting science teachers was tougher, with the 2005 figures not quite matching the previous year. However, the numbers are still better than 2001, and the report says "higher financial incentives from 2005" could boost recruitment further.

The report warns that despite this, there is still a shortage of people with science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) skills. More work, then, must still be done.

The stated goal of the framework is to raise the UK's total investment in research and development to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2014. In line with yesterday's European findings, the UK government noted that business investment in R&D is somewhat stagnant, partly because UK owned businesses tend to be in relatively low-R&D-intensity sectors.

Although investment rose by two per cent over the year, it needs to rise faster, the report says. Smaller, UK-owned businesses will be key to making that happen, and the government wants to see more of its funding R&D going to these small players.

The government also published a discussion paper (pdf) on the so-called Enhanced R&D Tax-Credit system, one of the main ways it wants to encourage businesses to invest more in research. It acknowledges that the system has had some teething problems, and sets out its plans for improving things in the future.

The full report is here (pdf). ®

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