Outstanding innovation showcased in parliament

9 July 2015

The UK’s unique ecosystem of collaboration between universities and industry is delivering outstanding examples of innovation, but to go on doing so it must be nurtured, speakers told an audience at a parliamentary reception on 7 July organised by the IOP and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).

Prof. Tom McLeish
Prof. Tom McLeish

  
At the event, sponsored by Lord May, the IOP and the RSC launched two publications, Inspirational physics for a modern economy and Inspirational chemistry for a modern economy, which detail examples of research originating in universities that is being used to address technological and societal challenges. These were taken from impact case studies of work submitted to the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014.

Addressing an audience of MPs, peers, and individuals from academia and industry, the IOP’s vice-president for science, Prof. Tom McLeish, said the system that links business, universities, research institutes and industry would be very easy to destroy and very hard to recreate. He said: “The UK has a unique, interdisciplinary ecosystem of innovation between global businesses and universities that we must nurture if it is to deliver the innovation-based supply chains, manufacturing and exports of tomorrow.”

The RSC’s president, Dominic Tildesley, said science was a vital driver for growth in the UK economy, delivering an annual return of 20p or 30p for every public pound invested. Innovation required basic, fundamental research, he said, adding: “We need to ensure that we continue to build a truly world-leading, knowledge-based economy.”

Nicola Blackwood MP
Nicola Blackwood MP

Nicola Blackwood MP, who in June became the new chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, said science-based innovation was producing jobs and growth and tackling the great challenges facing our world. Speaking on the eve of the Budget, she told the audience that she could not simply go to the Chancellor and say “you must spend more on science”, but she could try to ensure that the case for science was heard in the “white noise of Budget campaigning”.

As a new MP in 2010 she had been confronted by the anger of young people who felt that their futures had been sold down the river by politicians and she knew that it was her job to come to Westminster to try to fix it, she said. “You have to balance the books so that you can get back to growth and jobs and to a life worth living. As a new MP you discover that economic security underpins all other policy decisions,” she said. However, she was aware that in her constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, and in similar constituencies that were centres of innovation, innovative businesses faced skills shortages and recruitment and retention issues because of the lack of affordable housing and the need for an improved digital and transport infrastructure.

Among the case studies in Inspirational physics for a modern economy, which is available on the IOP’s website, are examples of innovative spin-outs in aerospace, defence and security at the universities of Southampton and Swansea and University College London; innovations in the energy sector underpinned by research at the universities of Bristol, Glasgow and Oxford; healthcare solutions developed from research at the universities of Leeds, Nottingham, Kent, St Andrews, Dundee and Bath; and manufacturing and commercial innovations made possible by research at the universities of Southampton, Strathclyde, Durham, Bath, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Royal Holloway, University of London.