Green economy key to UK high-tech growth

By RTCC Staff

David Willetts said universities and researchers were the UK's most vital asset (source: bisgovuk/flickr)

Research and Development will be vital for the UK to make its way in a high-tech world, create jobs and boost economic growth, said UK Universities and Science Minister, stressing 2012 will see growing investment in low carbon sectors, particularly nuclear.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange, David Willetts argued that the country’s universities and researchers were its greatest asset and key to fulfilling the Coalition’s top priority for 2012: economic growth.

He also highlighted the role that investment in energy and low carbon technologies could play.

“We already have sponsored research on low carbon cars. The Technology Strategy Board’s investment in low carbon vehicles in partnership with Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council played a significant role in Nissan’s decision to base the production of the entirely electric LEAF model and its advanced batteries in Sunderland,” he said.

“High on our agenda now is nuclear fission and fusion after a challenging report from the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords. We will be considering it carefully to ensure we get the most advantage from our historic strengths in these sectors.”

While not singling out low carbon development, it was one of four areas identified by the Government Office for Science for future investment.

Energy and low carbon technologies were placed alongside other science topics including Biotechnology and pharmaceuticals; materials and nanotechnology; and digital and networks.

Willetts stressed that the government has a clear understanding of areas for investment, preventing “eccentric of lop-sided decisions”.

Quoting economist Alfred Marshall from 1919, Willetts warned of the danger of expertise being exported abroad unless opportunities were harnessed in the UK. He said: “The small band of British scientific men have made revolutionary discoveries in science; but yet the chief fruits of their work have been reaped by business in Germany and other countries where industry and science have been in close touch with one another.”

This echoes the warning of low carbon industry experts that the UK could loose out – exporting expertise rather than products – if the government backs away from technologies such as solar and wind power.

Willetts once again highlighted nuclear, and its importance when looking to the future. He said: “Continuing to keep our country open to leading scientists who wish to work here and making a big contribution to global science projects such as managing the Square Kilometer Array and the key role of scientists in CERN and in JET and ITER project for nuclear fusion.”

While placing a lot of emphasis on the role of science, he also warned of the danger of neglecting research in other areas, including social sciences and the arts.

“This broad research base emphatically includes the arts, humanities and social sciences. They are all part of the science and research ring fence,” he said. “Increasingly for example research in the physical sciences is linked to human behaviour – not just designing a low carbon vehicle but understanding what makes people choose to drive it – or not.”

The UK invests £3 billion annually in academic work through Research Councils UK (RCUK), which combines the UK’s seven Research Councils covering science and the arts.

CCTV Exclusive: Professor Chin Siong Ho, Professor at the University Teknologi of Malaysia joined us in Durban to talk about the importance of research and development in tackling climate change.

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