The University of Southampton

Voice of the future

Published: 16 March 2017

The annual event, that took place on the 15th March and was organised by the Royal Society of Biology, saw school students through to postdoc researchers pitch their questions to top politicians and policy makers. This year’s questions covered a whole range of topics including equality initiatives in science, the funding gap between the north and the south, the science policies of the Trump administration, and the effects of Brexit on British science. Katrina pitched her question to Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson MP, who then responded that the government can help by ensuring that there is a business friendly and competitive R&D tax environment. Over 20,000 companies, many of which are SMEs, benefit from R&D tax credit, which as a tax relief, costs the government £2.4 bn pounds a year; a sign of the government’s commitment to supporting R&D. Patent box, a popular tax regime, enables profits on certain patents to have a tax rate of only 10% on revenues they generate, contributing to innovation in this country.

Here is a link to the video of the event.

Speaking after the event, Katrina said of the experience: I was incredibly honoured to represent such a prestigious and historical fellowship, The Royal Society, at an event such as this. Voice of the Future, unique in its kind, is a fantastic event which brings early career researchers into the discussion of science and policy within this country. Just days after article 50 cleared parliament, this event came at a time of political unknown, with a large focus on how Brexit will effect the scientific community, research and funding. Another large area of discussion focused on the challenges that women in STEM face. There was a common agreement that there are many issues that occur at all stages throughout a woman’s life and career. Carol Monaghan MP discussed the impacts of dressing baby girls in pink and boys in blue, highlighting the societal pressures that start from birth whilst Stephen Metcalfe MP discussed the dangers of the leaky pipeline, the negative impacts of short term contracts and poor employment conditions. Whilst it seems the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee has a deep understanding of the challenges surrounding women in STEM and acknowledges more needs to be done, in my opinion there is a lack of specific action. Speaking with Stephen Metcalfe MP after the event about the plans to end short term contracts, he responded that the new umbrella organisation of UKRI, headed by Sir Mark Walport, presents an opportunity for matters such as these to be driven by Mark himself. Whether anything comes of this is yet to be seen and with the political system in its current state, this may take a very long time. The afternoon saw over 60 representatives across four sessions pitch their questions to Sir Mark Walport, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson MP, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy Chi Onwurah MP and the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee.

The event was held in the Boothroyd Room, a room which has previously seen prime ministers as well as eminent researchers and experts deliver evidence to politicians and policymakers. This time the tables were turned, with the committee seats occupied by young people and politicians in the witness seats, ready to answer their questions.

Dr Stephen Benn, the Royal Society of Biology’s director of parliamentary affairs, describes the importance of Voice of the Future: “This is a unique event – in no other part of Parliament is the normal select committee format completely reversed so that MPs, the Minister and the Shadow Minister have to answer questions rather than ask them.

“It is important that policy makers use reliable evidence in their decisions, and today’s young scientists and engineers will be a vital part of this in the future.”

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