Over 300 people came together in Edinburgh, in November, to discuss and debate the key scientific issues that will face the next Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive from May 2007 to 2011
Over 300 people - scientists, educationalists and members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) - came together at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, in November, to discuss and debate the key scientific issues that will face those elected to the next Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive from May 2007 to 2011.
Now in its sixth year, the annual event, Science and Parliament, is organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry's (RSC) parliamentary affairs officer Stephen Benn and his team, working with the scientific community in Scotland.
This year's theme, A manifesto for science, gave delegates the opportunity to put their ideas to ministers and hopefully influence party policy in areas where science will have a major input- education, energy, the environment, and enterprise and lifelong learning. Opening the event, RSC president, Jim Feast said, 'Today is about looking ahead to the elections next year and identifying the major scientific issues that need investment in the 21st century if we are to sustain the world as we know it. Science in higher education must be stabilised, and we must provide the best science education in our schools'.
Nicol Stephen MSP, science minister, paid tribute to the work of the RSC in organising the event, stressing the core role of science in political and environmental issues, which she said should be reflected in terms of political priorities in the future. Scotland is in a excellent position, she said, with its strong research expertise to lead Europe in developing and delivering renewable energy as just one example. But while 'science is the future', she said, 'we will achieve nothing unless we can inspire and attract more young people to study science in our schools, colleges and universities'.
This view was echoed by Professor Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser for Scotland. 'As well as having a strong science base, one that is fuelled by a flow of young talent', she said, 'Scotland needs to develop a better knowledge exchange culture between academics and business, and enhance international connections'. She added, 'We also need to engage and enthuse the public about science, otherwise we cannot expect people to want us to invest in science'.
But how do scientists influence politicians? Advice was on hand from several MSPs prior to the breakout discussion sessions. Basically politicians want to win votes and elections and are not likely to be experts in science or curriculum, for example - so keep your dialogue simple and identify a few key points. With this in mind the education group, after discussion, put down their priorities for the next Parliament as:
- STEM is critical for the future;
- practical work is vital in schools but does not come cheap;
- continuous professional development for teachers is necessary at all levels;
- the secondary school curriculum needs to be reviewed; and
- careers advice is essential.