On Tuesday 2 August, former Cabinet Minister William Hague called on the next UK Prime Minister to prioritise realising Britain’s “science superpower” status. According to Hague, “making sure that this happens is the single most important activity with which they can bring prosperity, growth and security to this country.”

Today (Wednesday 4 August), the Lords Science and Technology Committee echoed this in their latest report, Science and technology superpower”: more than a slogan? with an emphasis on delivery and implementation, to ensure the strapline is as substantive as it has been designed to sound.

The British Science Association (BSA) welcomes both of these recommendations. However, our vision goes beyond becoming a superpower – we want to see a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society. We must ensure the opportunities and benefits are equitable in any future science strategy, not only to shape a world-leading science industry, but to sustain progress and successfully bring out the potential of people from communities, backgrounds and areas underrepresented in traditional science and innovation hubs.

Britain cannot be a superpower if parts of society are not welcomed and able to contribute to science research and innovation.

There is evidence that structural barriers persist from STEM education into STEM careers, according to reports from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity & Inclusion in STEM. The APPG’s findings point to a science sector that excludes marginalised groups including Black people, women, disabled people, and people from LGBTQ+ communities. Making science inclusive – from classroom to career – is essential to establishing a globally competitive workforce.

So, in addition to realising Britain’s “science superpower” ambitions, the next UK Prime Minister should aim to incorporate the values of the wider ‘levelling up’ agenda. To start, they should place recommendations from the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee’s current Diversity in STEM inquiry, and other relevant pieces of work, at the heart of science.

Neither William Hague nor the Lords Committee explicitly calls out diversity and inclusion as a requirement in a future strategy, though the Lords report does include Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser’s assertion that news skills are required at UK Research & Innovation “to interface with government and our diverse communities”.

Clio Heslop, Head of Policy, Partnerships and Impact at the BSA says:

“William Hague suggests that science needs the same funding and support as elite sport. Many reports this week have outlined how women’s football was side-lined, overlooked, and under-funded for decades. Yet, after just a few years of increased investment, women led England to its first major football trophy in over 60 years. Similarly, para-sport is fully integrated into the programme at the Commonwealth Games for the first time, and the UK nations currently have a combined total of 162 medals.  

“So, if we are going to draw parallels between sport and science, it seems clear that inclusion has to be central to the “science superpower” strategy.”

We at the BSA believe diversity and inclusion should be a vital component of the incoming Prime Minister’s plans for the UK science sector. Combatting structural inequity will improve growth, create sustainable economic prosperity and give rise to opportunities for future generations to lead on reaching our superpower status.

Find out more about the APPG on D&I in STEM