Bright times ahead for STEM at UK universities.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will preserve and promote the study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at UK universities, against a backdrop of a broader drive for government cuts and savings, says Professor Terence Kealey (Emeritus Professor of Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Buckingham and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC), writing in the Times Higher Education website.

Kealey pointed out that both Prime Minister Sunak (former Head Boy of Winchester School; followed by a BA/MA in PPE at Oxford University; MBA at Stanford University) and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (former Head Boy of Charterhouse School; followed by a BA/MA in PPE at Oxford University) are the product of elite private schools and top universities. Kealey therefore suggested that their approach to educational funding will reflect the orthodoxy of their own educational backgrounds, and the institutions which educated them. He therefore suggested that British science and higher education can be confident about the future, believing that both Sunak and Hunt will be anxious to accommodate and facilitate growth.

The last time that the orthodox status of science and higher education was reviewed and challenged, was by Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She drew upon evidence from a previous Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. His “white heat of technology” revolution, saw a vast expansion to the funding of science and higher education between 1664 and 1976, when it was suddenly cut due to a major financial crisis in Central Government. Thatcher therefore concluded that government funding of science was “neither necessary nor sufficient for economic growth”, so she initially slashed science and university budgets further during her own first administration. However, “The Iron Lady” ultimately lost this battle, with the weight of public opinion following the orthodox view that good science and higher education funding helps to grow the economy - and no politician had challenged this belief since.

And while there may have been educational alarm bells ringing when Sunak declared that he would “govern as a Thatcherite”, his own political track record regarding education, is very different. In February 2022, speaking at the University of London, he pledged to proving “our people with a world-class education” as a government priority, and he committed to increasing “public investment in Research and Development (R&D) to £22 billion a year”. And now Sunak also wants to expand the UK’s R&D tax credit system, making it more generous and globally competitive, against the likes of Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, and Israel, who currently make little or no use of R&D tax credits. All good news for British science and higher education.

As a result, Kealey concluded that an orthodox financial belief was what the UK and science and higher education need right now, and that this boded well for the future of STEM at UK universities.

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