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Science Sector

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2015

In the previous Parliament the Government demonstrated our commitment to science by protecting the science budget, even as we were forced to make discretionary savings of £98 billion elsewhere. Over the next five years, as we saw in our manifesto, our commitment to science will run through it like the words in a stick of rock. We have reaffirmed our commitment to investing £1.1 billion of science capital, rising every year until 2021, including £2.9 billion on grand challenges.

Thornton science facility was handed by Shell to Chester University, which is attended by many of my constituents. With large, high-skill employers such as Airbus, Bentley and others in the north-west, what more can my hon. Friend do to link employers to educational institutions and encourage the uptake of STEM— science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects?

I agree with my hon. Friend that Thornton science park deserves national recognition as an exciting regional centre for innovation, enterprise and higher education. I also welcome the strong leadership from the University of Chester in drawing together an impressive range of partners from business and academia. We need to see more such collaboration between universities and business all over the country.

Does the Minister appreciate that many of our great scientists at places such as the Babraham Institute and the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge are civil servants and stuck on the civil service pay freeze, and are being offered much better terms abroad? Will we compete? It is time to do so.

All parts of the public sector have been obliged to contribute to the national savings effort undertaken in recent years, but I would note to the hon. Gentleman that research councils have been exempted from those constraints and, as a consequence, have been able to compete around the world in attracting the best scientists to this country. They are doing so extremely effectively.

Our universities are critical to the strength of our science base, but following the tripling of tuition fees in the last Parliament, four out of five students no longer think that their courses are value for money. The Minister’s predecessor said that he saw no case for raising tuition fees in this Parliament. What does the Minister think? Will tuition fees go up in this Parliament? A simple yes or no will do.

Due to the financial situation we inherited, we are of course forced to review all BIS spend—as all Departments are reviewing their spend. As our manifesto made clear, the Government are committed to continuing to ensure that we have a stable and sustainable funding regime for our universities and higher education institutions. They are secure and financially stable, and we will continue to ensure a fair balance of interests between taxpayers and students.