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Secretary of State confident that UK remains science 'partner of choice'

The UK's Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling gave a confident speech on the UK's scientific performance on 23 October, and promised that the government will do more to ensure that the UK is not overshadowed by new competition from China and India.

'We are a nation o...

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The UK's Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling gave a confident speech on the UK's scientific performance on 23 October, and promised that the government will do more to ensure that the UK is not overshadowed by new competition from China and India.

'We are a nation of inventors. From Harrison's chronometer to Faraday's electric motor, Bell's telephone to Logie Baird's television, British science and innovation has changed the way we see the modern world,' said Mr Darling. Some of the UK's more modern inventions and discoveries were listed by the Secretary of State as DNA, a vaccine for Hepatitis B, aero-acoustics and fibre optics.

With just 1% of the world's population, the UK produces 9% of all scientific papers and receives 12% of all citations. 'Britain has three universities in the world top 10, eight in the top 50. Britain has the top four universities in Europe. In all, Britain has 29 universities in the top 200, up from 23 last year. UK scientists have transformed our world,' said Mr Darling.

The statistics from China and India are equally impressive. Together, these emerging economies are producing five million graduates each year in engineering, science and technology. Currently, China is producing 70% of the world's photocopiers, 50% of all cameras, and 25% of textiles. And Chinese wages are just 5% of those in the UK.

'And remember too that China and India may be producing photocopiers today but they want to be where we are - researching and developing tomorrow's technology,' warned Mr Darling.

Mr Darling presented a new scheme aimed at making the UK a 'partner of choice' for research projects. The initiative will build on existing investment of around GBP 100 million (€149 million), and will aim to attract the very best in science to the UK. 'It will push our world-class science base further and help give us a business edge. [...] I hope that the new scheme will become a sought-after badge of honour for upwardly-mobile scientists and a must-have for the CVs of our future scientific leaders,' said the Secretary of State.

The new scheme is intended to complement a number of measures that the UK already has in place. These include a funding scheme to help universities develop links with business; the Technology Strategy Board that identifies technology areas in which the UK is able to create a competitive advantage in the global market; Knowledge Transfer Networks; scientific advisors to the government; investment in facilities; enterprise training for science students; tax credits for companies carrying out research; and the prioritisation of science in schools.

'Ten years ago it used to be a national sport to beat ourselves up about the poor exploitation of research - good at science, but don't reap the rewards. And there was some truth in it. [...] But we have seen one of the greatest transformations over the last decade,' said Mr Darling.

'Where once science expanded our horizons, from British shores to the New World, innovations from air travel to e-mail and Skype are now shrinking our world. Globalisation is the challenge. The response is, to borrow a familiar slogan, the 'appliance of science'. Because it's good for Britain. And because Britain happens to be very good at it too,' finished Mr Darling.