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Science & Technology Series: Expert Comment

City academic takes part in parliamentary session for young scientists and engineers

Dr Emmanouil Benetos, Research Fellow in the Department of Computer Science was among selected young scientists and engineers at the ‘Voice of the Future’ session of the House of Commons on 4th March.
by John Stevenson (Senior Communications Officer)

Research Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, Dr Emmanouil Benetos, was one of several young scientists and engineers selected to attend the ‘Voice of the Future’ session of the House of Commons on 4th March.

The Voice of the Future event, organised by the Society of Biology, took place in the Boothroyd Room of Portcullis House (part of the Parliamentary Estate) and was broadcast on the BBC Parliament channel. Young scientists and engineers had an opportunity to participate in a Science Question Time with ministers and members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, including Sir Mark Walport (the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser), The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP (Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities) and Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP (Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation & Skills).

Emmanouil Benetos thumbnailDr Benetos and Dr Ben Britton (Imperial College London), represented the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) as Fellows of that institution. Dr Benetos reports his findings as follows: “The session, was formally opened with an introduction by Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, who noted that it was the first time that a chair has been elected by the whole House, which changes the dynamics of a normal Select Committee. This cross-party collegiality between members of the committee was noted throughout the event, as a way to ensure a long-term strategy for Science & Technology policies.”

“The main session was organised in four panels: the first witness was Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Sir Mark Walport raised the question of the security and promotion issues faced by early career researchers in STEM, in particular women. He recommended ‘Risks and Rewards’, a detailed study on career decisions from early career researchers, which outlines challenges faced by them, as well as recommendations to funders and stakeholders. He argued for researcher mobility, and stated that leaving science to pursue another career should not be viewed as a failure. Another key question was on the balance between public funding for research and innovation, and mentioned the difficulty in finding the right balance.”

“Next was a panel of witnesses from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. It was pointed out that only a few MPs have direct experience working with science and engineering but there are several groups and resources offering information, including the POST Fellows (for which RCUK-funded PhD students can apply for a 3-month placement and the House of Commons Library). The UK’s strength in scientific research was mentioned, in contrast with nurturing scientific talent at school; a comment was made that the curriculum might not completely relate to the real world – Hon Pamela Nash MP also commented on the fact that in certain cases, children are being taught science in schools by people without a science degree.”

“For the third panel, the witness was Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills. He stated that UK is at the forefront of attracting Horizon 2020 EU funding, and that organising a hasty EU referendum might place such funding avenues in jeopardy. On a question regarding future priorities in Science & Engineering, a suggestion was made to drop the current immigration policy (and the decision to put students in the net migration target), which has led to the first decline in international students for the last 29 years. Finally, he suggested creating a British dual-track system using the German model, which would have academic and vocational/apprenticeship pathways”.

“For the final panel, the witness was Rt Hon Greg Clark, MP Minister for Universities, Science and Cities. A question was asked about on the possibility of political parties working  together for long-term science policies, to which the response was that it is vital to establish a consensus, as was made by his predecessors, with an example being the Science and Innovation Strategy which looks 10 years into the future, and follows on from a previous 10-year strategy. Finally, answering a question on how to address gender inequality in STEM disciplines (a common theme for the whole session) it was mentioned that current gender representation at senior levels in institutions does not reflect the talent that is available; there is a responsibility on the part of universities to ensure that they get the best position in leadership, which in turn affects recruitment and representation from gender and ethnic backgrounds.”

Royal Academy of Engineering

The Royal Academy of Engineering provides leadership and promotes excellence across all fields of engineering, to the benefit of society. The Academy’s activities are shaped, led and delivered by its exceptional Fellowship, which represents the nation’s best practising engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs, often in leading roles across business and academia.

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