Conference roundup, Autumn 2014

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Coverage of our fringe in the Chinese-language news title Sing Tao: “Chinese Lib Dems host forum on challenges and opportunities for Sino-British Research”

The start of October saw the party convene in Glasgow for the last Autumn conference before the general election, and there were a number of debates and fringe events of interest to our members.

On Sunday we were involved in two lunchtime fringes: our Vice Chair Dr Jenny Woods represented Aldes on the panel of the Green Liberal Democrats‘ Big Green Fringe, speaking on how science and engineering can help in minimising our carbon footprint and mitigating climate changes that are already happening. At the same time, in an unfortunate timetable clash, we also ran our main fringe event jointly with the Chinese Liberal Democrats. This focused on China’s Science sector and how researchers in the UK could better build productive collaborations with Chinese partners.

Although our planned speaker from Nesta was unable to attend to present a summary of their report “China’s Absorptive State“, we were sent slides in advance and were able to share their key policy recommendations including drafting a five-year plan for research collaboration and convening a bilateral expert group to support ministers in both governments. We also heard from patent attorney Graham McGlashan from Marks & Clerk, who explained that intellectual property protection in China was much more robust than was often assumed by western firms and flagged up some key areas of innovation (including fuel cells and solar power) where there was likely to be a large increase in Chinese patents in the coming few years.

Also speaking was Professor Tariq Durrani from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who outlined new investments in science and innovation partnerships through the £75m Newton Fund and suggested that the UK would benefit from supporting a larger number of British students to participate in exchange programmes or overseas study in China. Our final speaker was Dr Cong Cao of the University of Nottingham who described how Chinese state procurement was becoming increasingly open to overseas providers, but cautioned that British and Chinese governments should aim to foster bottom-up initiatives in collaboration rather than directing them centrally.

Aldes members also attended fringes run by the Open Rights Group (on digital civil liberties), the Royal Society (on STEM education), and the Science Council (on creating jobs from science and innovation).

Finally, we also ensured that science and engineering was raised as a priority during the party’s pre-manifesto debate “A Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society” as Jenny Woods addressed conference to argue the importance of long-term investment in research and recommended a commitment to capital investment as well as research spend in the party’s manifesto. She concluded:

Our party is the natural home of scientists, engineers and technologists; of people who are unafraid to face up to the world’s challenges, like climate change, depletion of the earth’s resources and providing for a growing and ageing global population. We know that if science, engineering and technology are properly resourced, we can take on those challenges for society, enabling our country to adapt and flourish in the future.