Campaign responds to 2017 Autumn Budget

23 November 2017

The Campaign for Social Science welcomes the Chancellor’s commitment to “the biggest investment in science and innovation funding in four decades” outlined in today’s Autumn Budget. We agree with the Campaign for Science and Engineering whose analysis shows that this is in fact an increase of £300m of new money for an additional year, but the uplift is welcome and the longer time horizon important.

We also welcome the goal of achieving spending of 2.4% of GDP on research and development, as a driver of productivity and national innovation. This would be a step change, bringing the UK into line with the current OECD average. Yet it aims below the 3% strategic target the EU has set for 2020, and is far below the proportional R&D spending of countries like the US (2.8%), Japan (3.3%), Sweden (3.3%), and South Korea (4.2%). We therefore believe the UK should aim higher in the long term – seeking to at least match the EU target of 3%.

In addressing the challenge of improving UK productivity, we again welcome the steps taken in this Budget. We continue to believe that tackling the productivity puzzle of the UK’s weak performance relative to international comparators will require significant and sustained input from the social sciences. We have previously argued for a more balanced Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which can not only provide more finely-grained analysis of productivity challenges in various areas and industries but frame a range of experimental interventions so that we learn more about what works to boost productivity of underachieving enterprises.

The extension and increase in the National Productivity Investment Fund, along with the designation of a new Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford “growth corridor” are welcome steps in addressing some of these challenges. At the same time, they highlight geographic gaps in productivity. Bridging these divides will require social science understanding of how to best increase growth and overcome persistent regional inequality, buoyed by the vital economic and social benefits of universities at local, regional and national levels, as we have outlined elsewhere.

We also welcome today’s announcement of funding to strengthen the teaching and development of maths skills. We have long argued more widespread data and number skills are important for national productivity and future changes in the world of work. They are also important if we wish to foster a new generation of social scientists with the number and data skills to address questions that are important to the wider well-being of society. (See for instance the arguments in Health of People).

The steps set out today will encourage additional pupils to take A level maths or Core Maths, as a start, and we hope this will be extended to include A-level statistics.

The Chancellor’s commitment to “more maths for everyone” is in the right spirit. However, as we said in our response to the Smith Review on Post 16 Mathematics, improving UK schooling in mathematics and statistics requires multiple pathways by which students with different aims and aspirations can improve their data and number skills. We believe that the government should also provide additional funding for schools offering AS maths as a stand-alone qualification. This would be attractive for students who would benefit from qualifications higher than Core Maths (which is not in any case available in all schools) but who are doing three other A-levels. Before funding was withdrawn from stand-alone AS levels, AS maths take-up had been growing strongly, and we believe this should be restored as an additional pathway to widen data and number skills of a large group of secondary students.