Wales can be justly proud of its contribution to the science agenda. Ever since Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive hauled a train on rails at the Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil in 1804 there has been internationally acclaimed science innovation in Wales.
In a week where science has dominated the headlines, John Hughes, Chair of Higher Education Wales reflects on why science is important to our economy and how universities will play a crucial role in delivering the Welsh Government’s new ‘Science for Wales’ strategy.
Success in attracting science and research income into Wales is crucial for our economic prosperity. With a turnover of £1.2bn, universities in Wales already generate an additional £1.5bn with £1.1bn accruing to industries based in Wales.
Our universities welcome the opportunity to rise to the challenge of improving the research funding capture in Wales. Research ‘stars’ are important – we do need the top talent in order to compete with the best and at the same time we need to bring on younger researchers in Wales to be the next generation of top talent.
The Science for Wales strategy aims to ‘put universities at the heart of a drive to build a strong and dynamic science base that supports the economic and national development of Wales’. This is not to say that our universities have not been working towards this goal before now. The quality of science research in Wales has been widely recognised and acknowledged in the Government’s strategy.
In 2011 universities led the way with innovative collaborative projects on science and research. Last year the High Performance Computing Wales (HPC) project commenced, which is a £40 million research alliance aimed at giving Welsh businesses and universities access to the most advanced computing technology available.
HPC is involved for example in supporting cutting edge work aimed at making heart assist pumps the routine method of treating heart failure. The technology is being developed to tackle this global health problem and HPC is providing the computer modelling and simulation that shows how the body will react to this new method, thereby significantly reducing the time spent on the testing and development phase.
The projects supported by HPC Wales are already gaining international plaudits for their innovative research. Other major university initiatives include ASTUTE, an advanced manufacturing alliance working closely with business and receiving significant European funding. These projects will help deliver the sort of economic transformation we are all working hard to achieve.