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Vice-Chancellor says Science City could draw more talented Midlanders back to region

On Friday 16th May University of Warwick Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Thrift is to praise the £60 million Birmingham Science City initiative. He will say that it is a major investment that is helping the UK to keep competing with the massive investment in science being made by the UK’s competitors. He will also say that it could help draw many of the more talented non resident Midlanders back to the region.

In his address to a CBI conference in the Think Tank complex in Birmingham, on Friday May 16th, looking at the subject of "Science Cities”. Professor Thrift will say:

"Science City is one of the ways that we can tackle research projects on a scale and at a level hitherto not possible. This, in turn, gives us new ways of bidding into these worldwide networks – possibilities that we didn’t have before. In other words, our hand has been strengthened in this global science community."

He believes that a key next step is to use success stories such as Science City to draw back talented Midlanders to the region. He will say:

"The most successful regions in the world are those where people have come back after acquiring significant experience elsewhere in their chosen careers. Major world regions – Taiwan, India, China – all have schemes for attracting back the brightest and best of their Non-Resident Citizens. Perhaps this is something we should consider introducing in the West Midlands? What we need is a Non-Resident Midlander programme which will bring our best and brightest back after they have forged successful careers. In this way, we can convert brain drain into net gain."
He will point out that the UK faces heightened global competition in science research and programmes to link science with business. He will say:

"Remember that our competitors within the field of science and technology are not actually other regions in the UK but regions in Asia, the Middle East, and, most particularly, North America which are investing in science and technology on an amazing scale."

"Take Asia for example. China is developing a multi-billion dollar investment in Research and Development. China’s R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP, has grown rapidly, doubling to 1.4% of GDP between 1996 and 2005. And this growth is set to continue. Chinese officials have announced that R&D spending by all sources, industry included, will rise from 236 billion yuan ($30 billion) in 2005 to 900 billion yuan ($113 billion) in 2020. Japan, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and others are also developing initiatives aimed at elevating their economic performance and international presence through attracting R&D investment."

"The United States (US) is still the world's undisputed leader in science and technology and our number one competitor – and collaborator. US investment in scientific research, from government, corporations and foundations, currently stands at 2.6% of total GDP. The US currently has 1.3 million researchers - and there is more to come with a proposal on the table to double the US National Science Foundation’s budget."

"On a recent trip to the US with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills I was involved in meetings with prominent business people in three major economic clusters. They all told us that they firmly believed that universities’ main role should be as the centres of fundamental research – this was the unique role of universities and where business felt universities could be most useful. In the US businesses have clustered near to the best universities so as to be close to the groundbreaking ideas which come out of these institutions."

"Clearly one way our universities and business can also work closer together successfully is to set up explicitly translational operations, such as the Science Cities Birmingham-Warwick initiative. Our first major Science City project is a ground-breaking collaboration between our two main universities focussing on hydrogen energy, currently seen as one of the best ways of energy generation reducing radically carbon and greenhouses emissions. Our hope is that this exciting project will position the West Midlands as a leading research centre in hydrogen energy. We will also be working together on broader energy research and on translational medicine- a relatively new branch of medicine, rapidly growing in importance, that seeks to more directly connect basic research to patient care."

For further details please contact:

Peter Dunn, Press & Media Relations Manager
University of Warwick,
Tel: 024 76 523708 or mobile 07767 655860

PR44 PJD 15th May 2008