Science Superpower

The Debate

After the presentations, the speakers joined a panel to answer questions from the audience on a variety of topics, including: citations; timescales; targets; Horizon Europe and China.

League tables of citations can be misleading for two reasons. They favour English-speaking countries. In addition, some countries incentivise publishing in certain journals which creates further distortions.  Although citations are important, scientific enterprise needs to be underpinned by a common understanding of the ethical ways that research is conducted.

Possible tensions

The Government's ambitions are expressed in quite short time horizons and require a radical increase in research investment. This could create a greater tension between quality and quantity than if the growth was taking place over a longer time period. It also means the UK will be in competitions with other countries around the world for extremely talented people and also for investment, particularly from businesses. Both of these groups have a choice of where to locate their efforts.

Unfortunately, the 2.4% target is outdated already. The UK should have an ambition to continue that trajectory upwards, but that must be stable. It will be no good spending five or 10 years reaching an economic goal only to see that decline in the following decade. It needs to be self-sustaining, and indeed growing. It is really important that the investment in R&D is put to good use.  

Over the past two decades, despite numerous interventions by governments of different political persuasions, it has been very hard to move that economic metric upwards. It will be a big challenge to move the figure beyond 2.4%. This will require a transformation of the UK economy and culture.

Is it possible for the UK to become a research superpower without full engagement within the EU Horizon Europe? It is very important to maintain links with the UK’s nearest collaborators, but programme is only part of the global research landscape, so the UK will have to re-double its efforts to create partnerships if association with Horizon does not come off.

Forging links

The UK should build links with talent from China. They are going to be the world leader in many areas and the UK will lose out if it is too guarded about collaboration. We need wider links with major players.  Otherwise, we will be moving away from being a superpower rather than towards it.

Being a science superpower means providing better opportunities for business and entrepreneurship and for investment by other countries as well.


Science superpower – Prime Minister’s announcement

Science superpower – advice to the Prime Minister


Scenarios for a Science Superpower – podcast with Professor Sarah Main, Executive Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering, and Professor Graeme Reid, Chair of Science and Research Policy, University College London

Science Superpower – podcast with Matthew Burnett, Head of Science and Technology at Onward.