UK political parties promise science funding boost : Nature News & Comment

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Tim Farron (Liberal Democrat), Theresa May (Conservative), and Jeremy Corbyn (Labour) have all presented manifestos that pledge to raise UK R&D spending.

UK scientists worried about how Brexit will affect their funding received a boost this week, when the country’s three main national parties pledged long-term targets to raise research spending. The announcements came in party manifestos unveiled ahead of national elections in June.

It’s “a surprise and a delight” to see the promises, says Graeme Reid, a science-policy researcher at University College London. None of the manifestos makes detailed financial commitments to science. But each sets targets to substantially increase spending on research and development (R&D) as a proportion of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) — an indicator often taken as a measure of a nation’s commitment to research.

The United Kingdom spends 1.7% of its GDP on research, less than the European Union’s 2% average and well behind many other developed nations (see graphic, ‘Research spending gap‘). The governing Conservative Party — which polls suggest should sweep the 8 June election — has promised to raise that figure to 2.4% within 10 years, and to aim for a longer-term goal of 3%. The opposing Labour Party says it wants to hit 3% by 2030, and the Liberal Democrats — traditionally the country’s third party — promise a “long-term goal” to “double innovation and research spending across the economy”.

Source: OECD.

The pledges are aspirations that will take more than one term of Parliament to deliver, Reid notes. And a government by itself won’t be able to achieve the targets, because they rely on business R&D investment rising in concert with public funding. But if the parties…

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