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Written Statement - Progress on Science for Wales

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Edwina Hart, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science

In March 2012 the Welsh Government published ‘Science for Wales, a strategic agenda for science and innovation in Wales’ in response to the initial findings of Wales’ first Chief Scientific Adviser Professor John Harries.


The strategy set out our goal to build a strong and dynamic science base that supports the economic and national development of Wales. It recognised that Government can support and lead towards this goal but success ultimately depends on the research, business and education communities.


This statement will update Members on progress to date on those commitments made within Science for Wales and indicate how we will continue to monitor progress in delivery of the strategy.


Strengthening University Science


Key components of Science for Wales are the Sêr Cymru (Stars Wales) initiative and the National Research Networks program. The intention is to enhance research in Wales through a five year funding programme to attract and support world class science researchers and their teams, to build greater capacity for the future. It is also intended to build up networks of existing excellence as contributions to increasing Wales' cut of the UK Research Council's funding to 5% from its current 3.4%.


Sêr Cymru will support the establishment of a collaborative national research network in each of the three Grand Challenge areas identified in Science for Wales: Advanced Engineering and Materials; Life Sciences and Health; and Low Carbon, Energy and Environment. These are closely affiliated to three of the priority business sectors already identified within the Welsh economy.


The £50million project is underway and on 27 September I launched the Announcement of Opportunity for Sêr Cymru at Aberystwyth University. The expressions of interest received by the closing date were encouraging and, after an internal sifting process by Officials from the Chief Scientific Adviser’s team, the Delivery Board met for the first time in December. Members were pleased with the quality of the individuals who had shown interest in the programme. There will be a second meeting in March.


In addition, we have started work with the St. David’s Day Group of research intensive universities to improve research effectiveness and better engage with the UK Research Councils and the Technology Strategy Board.


Grand Challenge Priority Areas


We want to encourage scientific research in those areas that will see a positive economic impact for Wales and recently announced Knowledge Exchange Projects to support each the three Grand Challenge areas. These projects, which will receive Welsh Government funding of up to £200,000, have now been awarded. Over a two year period, they will explore how Welsh academia and industry can best collaborate to exploit the strategic areas to create good-quality, sustainable jobs in Wales.


In the Life Sciences and Health sector, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (NISCHR) has already published two of its nine delivery plans – including one on NHS Industry engagement. Other exciting initiatives are underway to promote NHS Wales and the life sciences sector community to the wider UK and international community. 


More companies than ever before from Wales have participated in life sciences trade events this year.  Around 70 representatives from the life sciences sector in Wales flew out to Dusseldorf recently to take part in Medica – the world’s largest event for the medical sector. This was the biggest delegation ever supported by the Welsh Government for a single international trade event and highlights the drive to increase the international profile of the sector through increased trade and export activity.


In October I launched the Energy & Environment SME Growth Fund, worth £330,000. This two-year scheme supports research, development and commercialisation of new knowledge for companies in the sector to help them grow their market share –here and abroad. Meanwhile, the existing Academia for Business (A4B) programme is also inviting proposals that focus on the Grand Challenge areas.


Promoting Business Innovation


Science for Wales recommended a new innovation strategy to focus on how best to promote business innovation and exploit scientific research to help improve the Welsh economy and create high-quality, long-term jobs for Wales. An independent task and finish group has already conducted a thorough consultation with interested parties and is due to present its strategy for consideration by Welsh Government shortly.
We held our first Wales-based Small Business Research Initiative competition this year. The theme focussed on digital technology to link communities and visitors along the newly-opened Wales Coastal Path. We received over 60 entries and the winning ideas were showcased in an event in July.


Increasing the Science and Engineering Talent Pool


A number of significant announcements from the Minister for Education & Skills will inform and impact on how we achieve our STEM education objectives. The review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales announced on 1 October will look at STEM subjects, especially mathematics and numeracy, while the Guidance to Schools on STEM, document published recently, will help teachers find out about the huge and varied offering of material to support the STEM curriculum and STEM careers choices and pathways.


Meanwhile financial assistance of over £600,000 from the National Science Academy will enable more than 20 projects across Wales to encourage children and young people to engage with science.


Improving Delivery in Government Science


Our Chief Scientific Adviser Professor John Harries identified that the scientific staff resource providing advice, policy input and support for securing more research funding from outside Wales, was too widely spread out across the Welsh Government. Science for Wales therefore recommended that key elements should be brought together and strengthened within Government. We have done this with the establishment of a Chief Scientist’s Department and a Science Division within it. 


There remains more to do to help improve the quality and quantity of research across Wales; help develop larger scale R&D proposals and raise the profile of science and engineering careers and skills. Whilst success in these areas ultimately depends on the research, business and education communities, our internal arrangements strengthen our ability to co-operate and provide leadership. Co-operation is already under way to promote Welsh science and improve the management of research.


The Science for Wales agenda is broad. Success will depend on a wide range of actions and on seizing new opportunities that arise. The Cabinet committed to overseeing Science for Wales through an ad hoc Ministerial Group, chaired by myself. That Group will meet in the next few months to review progress made over the first year of implementation.


We will also shortly be publishing a delivery plan for Science for Wales setting out action points, delivery timescales and targets.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed.  Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.