The UK’s science and technology sector has experienced worrying cuts in spending in this week’s budget – but those in the field say the government will need to do more to realize the UK’s potential as a “science superpower”.
This is expected to be a budget cut, with the government’s previous pledge to double research and development (R&D) spending a low-hanging fruit. instead, jeremy hunt As previous chancellors have done, he has made it clear that boosting Britain’s high-tech industry is at the heart of his economic recovery plan.
his plan, he told them House of Commonsin order to turn the UK into “the world’s next Silicon Valley”.
science and technology Often described as a “growth engine”, by most measures there is nothing wrong with the UK’s engine.
UK universities consistently top international league tables, especially in science and engineering. As part of our graduates, we produce more scientists and engineers to high standards than many economies of similar size.
We also do some of the best scientific work in the world: the UK is second only to the US in the number of Nobel Prizes won.
The engine is also a very efficient one. The UK spends far less on R&D as a percentage of GDP than its competitors. Even with the chancellor’s renewed promise on Thursday to double R&D spending, our spending remains slightly below the OECD average and well below our rivals in high-tech economies such as the US, Germany, China and South Korea.
“Turning world-class innovations into world-class companies”
The perennial question has been how to get this engine to turn the wheels of economy.
“We need to do a better job of turning world-class innovations into world-class companies,” Jeremy Hunt told the Commons, and those in Britain’s high-tech business sector would not disagree.
Paragraph is a Cambridgeshire start-up that is applying the wonder material graphene to microelectronics. They have pioneered a process for replacing metal conductors used in microchips with graphene.
Their first product was called a “Hall sensor”, which was a fairly simple device for measuring magnetic fields. There are about 50 in every car and at least one in your phone. They’re used to measure things like the rotation of a wheel or an electronic compass. By using graphene, Paragraf’s sensor uses about 1000 times less power than conventional sensors.
The ultimate goal is to use graphene to make computer chips. “Imagine a computer with a graphene chip that uses 50% less energy and is 1,000 times faster, so it’s really a transformative material,” said Paragraf CEO Simon Thomas.
At present, Mr. Thomas’s main concern is to develop his company in the UK. “One of my biggest fears over the next few years is that we’re going to have to move our business off UK shores very quickly. That’s because there’s more support. We have more capacity to grow with other countries,” he said .
Duan has benefited from government support. Graphene was first isolated in the UK, and the scientists who did the work won a Nobel Prize. But Mr Thomas said the environment for growing small businesses into globally competitive large players was not yet strong enough.
That includes the right manufacturing base and supply chain for a business like his, and an investment culture that allows companies like his to cross what venture capitalists call the “valley of death,” from start-up scale to large-scale manufacturing.
“It would be a shame if this happened elsewhere. This is a disgrace not only to research in this country, but also to the government itself, which has invested so much money in developing the industry. We can be at the heart of it, we can be the drivers at once, not the followers,” Mr Thomas said.
Jeremy Hunt has acknowledged some difficulties in the budget – commissioning chief scientist Patrick Vallance to look into a regulatory reform plan and site a new innovation precinct on vacant land near the university.
There are other challenges. Most of the UK’s scientific achievements are based on international collaboration. Brexit has had a major impact on this, with a promised trade deal yet to emerge. The consultation announced in the Budget to scrap the SME tax credit could also have practical implications.
For more on science and technology, explore the future with Sky News at Big Ideas Live 2022 this weekend.learn more and Book your tickets here.
Putting more money into research and development would help, but many problems cannot be solved by throwing money at them.
“It’s not just about brain pain over knowledge,” says Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern.
“It’s not just about people making discoveries. Then it’s about creating a pipeline where knowledge, technology and expertise can be useful to companies, public services and society.”