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The UK must play to its strengths: building a successful industrial strategy

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The Chief Executive of the British Academy, Alun Evans, has given evidence at the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today to discuss the focus of the Government’s industrial strategy.

A paper written by Evans and former President of the British Academy, Lord Nicholas Stern, makes the case for putting humanities and social sciences at the heart of the industrial strategy.

The most important challenges of our time: positioning Britain to succeed and priorities for research and innovation recommends that the nation ‘play to its strengths’, investing in areas where the UK has a comparative advantage, namely the service sector, which accounts for 80% of GDP. 

The service sector includes some of the UK’s most productive industries, such as the creative industries and technologies, financial services and advertising. These sectors flourish by employing people with knowledge and skills in the humanities and social sciences, and these skills underpin a growing proportion of the innovation that drives the competitiveness of UK firms.

The paper also raises five great challenges for our time, issues which require urgent action, and which can only be tackled by combining analysis from the humanities and social sciences with insights from science and technology:

  • Sustainable cities and regional policies
  • The integration of health and health care
  • Pollution, environment and climate
  • The ageing society
  • Technology, globalisation and the future of employment.

Research in these areas should be funded via the Industrial Strategy Challenges Fund.

Co-author of the paper and Chief Executive of the British Academy, Alun Evans, said: “The UK is at a crossroads, faced by the demands of Brexit as well as issues like technological change and globalisation. The Government’s industrial strategy is key to ensuring that we can turn these challenges into opportunities for growth.

“Current ideas about industrial strategy tend to focus on industrial sectors like manufacturing, but to rise to the challenges of our time, the UK must play to and exploit all its strengths. Driven by a skilled workforce from the humanities and social sciences, service sectors like advertising, financial services and the creative industries are the success stories of our economy and demonstrate the most potential areas for growth.

“As we think about how to approach a period of major change, the humanities and social sciences, together with our proven strengths in science and technology, are crucial to building a stronger and more productive UK.”

Today the UK’s national academies - the British Academy, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society – have also published a paper outlining the benefits of investing in UK R&D.

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