The Queen’s speech: cap on migrants, science education, and Lords reform

Science tends to get on fairly well without legislation and lawmaking, so we weren’t anticipating a lot of science or engineering news from the Queen’s Speech this morning. But there are three issues which we’d like to flag up for your attention; the cap on economic migrants, schools reform, and possible reform to the House of Lords.

These potential reforms are in their early stages, but we’d be keen to hear what you think CaSE’s response should be. You can either leave a comment on the blog, or email me at imran[at-nospam]

Migrant Cap

The Queen said that her Government will “limit the number of non-European Union economic migrants entering the United Kingdom”. This is part of the coalition’s aim of reducing migration to “tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands”.

CaSE’s position is very clear – see our Policy Response on International Excellence for an in-depth view. The ability of the UK to attract the brightest scientists and engineers from around the world is a huge strength.

Such individuals share their excellence and skills with the academia and industry here, help us respond to short-term fluctuations and long-term skill shortages, contribute to the economy, and act as role-models for under-represented groups here in the UK.

The former Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, Phil Willis, said that “attracting, educating, collaborating and retaining international scientists and engineers is not an option but an imperative”. We’re therefore concerned that the cap on migrants would damage the science and engineering excellence of the UK.

The Government has said it will look to consult before implementing mechanisms for the limits, as well as the the level of the limit itself, and CaSE will be keen to feed into that process.

Schools Reform

Downing Street has confirmed that there will be two new Bills on education – the Academies Bill, and the Education and Children’s Bill.

Both of these Bills promise greater freedom for schools with respect to the National Curriculum.

One of the reforms we were disappointed not to see in the Programme for Government was the introduction of universal ‘triple science‘ (Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered as separate subjects) as GCSE level, given that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats stated it as an aim before the election.

We’re therefore hoping that the Government will use one or both of these Bills as a vehicle to bring in that entitlement, and that greater freedom from the National Curriculum won’t jeopardise science teaching in schools. CaSE will seek to engage with the legislative process in due course.

House of Lords Reform

The Queen said that her Government will “propose Parliamentary and political reform to restore trust in democratic institutions”. It’s been speculated that these reforms might include changes to the House of Lords.

Currently, the Lords are all appointed, hereditary, or religious, and it’s been suggested that they should instead be wholly or partially elected.

Many people see one of the strengths of the current House of Lords being its wealth of scientific expertise. Lords May, Rees and Krebs are just a few examples of individuals with rich STEM backgrounds who sit in the Lords.

Peers such as these play a key role in scrutinising legislation from a scientific or engineering perspective, and it’s not clear that they would be in a position to do so if they had to run for election to the Lords.

No specific reforms have yet been announced, but CaSE will be looking at them when they are, and making the argument for retention of scientific and engineering expertise in any reformed upper chamber.

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  1. Posted 25/05/2010 at 15:21 | Permalink

    There are other things to worry about in education than loosing triple-science GCSE. In fact, I’d say that’s a fools errand. Engagement kids in their learning more effectively so you have education system that manages to deliver its aims. Evidence based sex-ed. A thoughtful approach to scientific literacy. Ways to find common ground on the multiple stakeholders involved in sci ed. THAT is what you should be worrying about.

    Also, “Science tends to get on fairly well without legislation and lawmaking”. No comment :)

    • Imran Khan
      Posted 25/05/2010 at 15:53 | Permalink

      It’s not a case of losing it – a lot of kids don’t get the option at the moment, even when they’d ace it. Given all the infrastructure, curricula, etc, are there, it’s a fairly easy way of improving science education, particularly for students from non-traditional backgrounds.

      Pitching a wholesale reform of education so it’s more evidence-based would be interesting – slightly beyond what we’re capable of here just now in terms of resources, but who knows.

      • Posted 26/05/2010 at 11:21 | Permalink

        Fair point about not “loosing” but “giving opportunity”. Still, I’d be interested to see specifics on exactly how easy it is compared to other approaches.

        I’d also be interested in the arguments and evidence on how much it improves life for kids who take it (just that some would get good results in the exam does not equal answer to this). More science content at GCSE does not necessarily equal populous that is better educated/ more scientifically literate/ more enthused by science. I’m not convinced it gives you more (and better) scientists either.

        For me, the key point is that if triple science becomes norm for those “serious” about science, people who choose not to do all three (four if you are including maths, five if you include DT…) end up excluded from perusing a scientific education later, or at least kids feel a pressure to drop other subjects in order to do the triple-science option so as to signal themselves as serious. I also don’t like the notion that real science education is separated into physics, chemistry and biology, which (a) looses interdisciplinary nature of contemporary science and (b) has long been a problem for earth sciences and engineering (not accusing CaSE of thinking that sort of sloppy thinking, but it does sit under a lot of the three-sciences lobby).

        Wouldn’t try for “wholesale reform of education so it’s more evidence-based” either imho. Sex ed one of the specific special cases. Again, better things to work for. Moreover, a lot of educational research is problematic at best. Useful, but only partially so. “Research-informed policy” maybe a better phrase in this context.

  2. Vicky
    Posted 27/05/2010 at 12:55 | Permalink

    1. just because a party has as its aim a particular item, does not mena once a coalition government is formed that it will stay. It is a bit naive and childish to expect every single item on one parties agenda to be taken up by the other party and vice versa.
    2. the only real method of limiting immigration in a way that is not going to harm movement of valuable scientists etc is to actually screen the people who want to come in using an Australian points type system ‘is this person going to add to our economy or take away from it’. But also have we got the infrastructure for x more persons in place x eg the healthcare, public transport, the educational, housing, policing etc etc. The UK cannot simple continue taking everyone in who feels like coming here; even the space itself is finite. That includes people coming from the EU and people who are white, yellow, brown or black too, by the way.

  3. Posted 04/06/2010 at 03:05 | Permalink

    The most important decision we make is how we make decisions.

    House of Lords Reform is more than speculation: “We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation” (The Coalition: our programme for government).

    With respect, looking at the reforms when they are announced will be too late.
    It is imperative that we have the debate now, make the arguments now, and demand a referendum.

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