Barely a week into the new year and we’ve already seen a small flood of announcements in science and engineering (although you may have understandably missed them due to another truly historic if appallingly belated event happening as well).
So what’s been happening? The UK Science Minister David Willetts has announced that the next Catapult technology and innovation centre will be dedicated to space applications, as well as outlined his vision for privately funded science and technology graduate universities. Pretty good, right? Well, not to be outdone, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (Semta) has announced the launch of the Apprentice Ambition – a scheme which aims to double the number of advanced and higher level apprenticeships by 2016. And if that wasn’t enough, the Royal Society has called for schools to use cutting edge science to inspire young people!
“Not a bad start to the year,” you might say! But what do all these developments mean in reality? How much impact are they likely to have?
The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield is part of the first Catapult centre announced by the Government.
The launch of the latest Catapult centre, part of a £200m programme announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last year, illustrates the Government’s apparent strategy in science and technology – to focus on headline specialisms where they believe the UK can be world-leading (such as high value manufacturing, cell therapy, offshore renewables and space technology) but arguably at the expense of a broader research base for innovation. Whether this strategy will provide sustainable long-term growth, or merely a short-term boost remains to be seen…
David Willetts is hoping to emulate leading US universities in creating institutions where new innovations are not just conceived, but transformed into businesses, jobs and economic growth (as typified by university-industry collaborations such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre above… oh wait…) Criticism aside, this idea does present some interesting opportunities for attracting more private investment into research, but you do have to question the motives of a Government who have previously cut vast sums of money from research budgets. I wonder how much fees will be at this new type of university and more importantly, who will be expected (or able) to pay them?
Semta envisages over 170,000 manufacturing jobs being created over the next 5 years.
We’ve said before how inspiring and supporting the next generation is crucial for an engineering and manufacturing resurgence, so it’s great to see some real initiatives and great ideas aiming to do just that. The £5m secured by Semta being targeted at apprenticeships is by no means enough, but is a good step forward all the same. And the grants being given by the Royal Society to take cutting edge research into schools just makes me want to grab some liquid nitrogen, a lab coat, safety glasses and gloves (mad scientist anyone?) and show off the ‘cool effects’ (get it?) that cryogenic treatment has on bits of metal! …On the other hand there’s just a small chance that I’m not exactly who they’re after…